Interview with a Monster - The Salem Witch File
First seen in Suspense Magazine June 2013
In January 2013, I found myself staring at a blank computer screen. It wasn’t writer’s block and there were many, as of yet, unfinished projects to complete, including a first full length novel (chapter 1 is teasingly included in the back of this book), a number of tales that were basically written and only needed a good edit, the weekly blog posting at stayingscared.blogspot.com, and I had just embarked on writing a column for Horror News Net entitled Land of Shadow and Substance (more on that later).
Regardless, this idea, a rather unorthodox, yet interesting series of interviews featuring some of filmdom’s classic fictional monsters had been clawing to get out for some time now and I ran with it.
As these yet to be written unconventional pieces swam in my mind, another aspect struck and I doubted whether any publications would view them with equal fascination. Regardless, I easily tackled the first, Frankenstein, and along with a pitch to write more, sent it off to the very first place I had ever been published, Suspense Magazine.
Well, lo and behold, the appeal was there and the Interview with a Monster series was born.
Five of these interviews were eventually published; Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, Phantom of the Opera and the Salem Witch; and all included an enticement or hint as to who the subsequent piece would surround.
I’ve since taken a hiatus from the concept, but can say without hesitation that someday I will revisit this concept, probably with a more modern twist. Mwhahahahahaha!
To me, old crone witches practicing spell casting witchcraft can be downright frightening. For contrary to popular belief, I am of opinion that there are forces in this world better off avoided and left completely alone. First seen in the August 2013 issue of Suspense Magazine, it was the fifth and final Interview with a Monster installment.
In my prior visits with Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman and Phantom, I basically knew what to expect. Fortunately, all went well and obviously I wasn’t crushed, drained, shredded or scarred.
Witches posed a far more terrifying aspect; capable of striking at any given moment, at any given location and without any given notice.
Nonetheless, I was bound and determined to interview one and while quite sure they existed everywhere, there was one primary place that was almost guaranteed to bring success…Salem.Leaving the comforts of my Ohio home, I don’t mind telling you that apprehension was in the air and it took some small amount of courage to mentally counter the growing nerves in my belly. I had been fearful before, but nothing like this. At least with the prior four, running to escape was a viable option. With women of the dark arts, true monsters’ in my eyes and limited only by their minds’ blackest corners, any exodus is vain.
However, also lingering just below the surface of fear was motivation and determination too. So I simply swallowed the dread, planned to proceed lightly and hoped for an unscathed outcome.
But, along the way this fear would not let up and I was unable to stop recalling a few films depictions and the victims’ inevitable conclusions. One sufferer in particular, which my mind continued to loop back around to, had been attacked from afar and inflicted with what looked like a boil on his cheek. This pimple like thing turned out to be a nest and when it broke open, amongst the pus and blood were tiny spiders scattering all about his face.
Rather gruesome it was and I battled against the horrific thoughts, trying to replace them with more positive dispositions. After all, I meant no harm and intended to convey this early on expressing that I’m only a writer wanting to discuss and interview. They certainly wouldn’t frown on that, I told myself.
Of course, this did little to ease the trepidation and by the time the Salem - 23 miles sign came within sight, the nervous knot in my stomach felt basketball sized. Coincidently, I pondered whether those little hairy spiders were about to come rushing out of my navel.
Picturing each wart-nosed crone having ever seen, it wasn’t those types that truly troubled me. More concerning was the beauty eyed, total wicked type that one never sees coming. The ones remaining hidden from public perception, yet harboring a vile iniquity along with a collage of malicious spells and castings that are most abhorrent.
Prior research had explained much of this and a quick perusing of various search engines also provided a subject plethora including spell derivatives. Further searching, specifically narrowing it down to the Salem, Massachusetts area, provided the usual tourist havens and upon closer inspection, offered a couple of leads; particular websites with names indigenous to the craft, and the addresses I jotted down on a small sliver of yellow paper. Of course, I couldn’t be sure whether they would prove to be vital, but at least it was a direction and beginning in a town of forty thousand, nestled against the Atlantic just north of Boston.
The twenty three miles passed quickly and pulling into town, it was warm and comfortable and calm, with exception of my still knotted stomach, which now bawled with hunger too. I drove along scenic routes, seeking a diner and soaking up modern day metro meets quaint and quiet. Armed with recollections of many pen and ink drawings, it wasn’t all that hard to envision this place as a 1692 village, and before long, found what I sought.
From the outside, the place appeared typical, with white sheer curtains hanging in the windows and a flashing neon sign beaming the word open. Inside, while the décor wasn’t unusual either, there was an overwhelming and impending feeling of coldness, like walking into a morgue, as every patron, all at the exact same time, stopped to stare until the tiny bell attached to the door faded from ringing. Let’s just say that the creep effect was prevalent as thoughts of Stepford crossed my mind.
In hindsight, I suppose this was my only warning. But with a stubborn side that wasn’t going to be chased off that easily regardless of a tightening belly, this realization was somehow blocked and I took an open seat at the counter between two ogling men who appeared to be well into their twilight years.
Not really needing to, since I already had something in mind, I pluck the menu from in between the napkin and condiment racks and gave the respect of looking over their listings. The waitress, an absolutely gorgeous hunk of blond-haired womanhood that could easily have been a model, approached and stood across from me.
“What’ll it be?” Her voiced was dainty with a slight English accent having since faded.
Stunned, I couldn’t find words. Obviously having seen this effect before, she didn’t bother asking again, just smiled, batted her eyes and waited while I regained composure. Finding my speech, I put the menu back and ordered bacon, lettuce and tomato and an ice tea. Without another word, she went to fetch it.
She delivered my drink and went to check on the sandwich. I took a sip and glanced around. Everyone was still gawking, like they’d never seen an outsider before. All in all, it was rather disturbing and I returned to the drink.
Returning with my lunch, she placed it in front of me and with a partly lowered brow, looked about the room. I followed her gaze and watched as everyone turned away and went back to eating.
Her face softened and with attentions focused on me, in between sandwich bites I explained the purpose of my visit. She stood there looking pretty and contently listening. I finished the tea and she offered to refill it. Before I could finish chewing the last bite and object, she had already snatched up the glass and was gone. When she came back, while not at all wanting it, I felt obliged to at least take a few sips as she watched.
Afterward, while setting the glass back down, she reached out and patted the back of my hand. There was a sudden whirl of blur and I found myself sitting on a pew, dressed as a puritan, compressed in a small building resembling a church with a crowd that would rival a minor league baseball game.
Needless to say, it took me a while to poise and after a hurried observance, recognized that it was a courtroom complete with a judge wearing a white powdered wig. A distinct, but not distinguishable shape embedded round, stained glass window, above and behind him, allowed penetrating sunlight to flow, cascading multicolored rays down onto a fairly young woman sitting on a sturdy wooden chair at the front of the congregation. Behind streaming tears, fear filled her face, much like the closely resembling little girl of innocent age who sat beside me and whom I looked upon with tremendous forlorn.
A heavy gavel bang made me jerk and turn to see two burly men taking hold of the poor woman and dragging her down the center aisle and out the double doorway.
The crowd started to follow in orderly fashion, some hooting and hollering, and while not entirely positive, I thought I’d heard something about a witch getting what she deserved.
The people in my row rose and began inching their way out, much like the conclusion of a wedding, and I did the same, simply going with the majority. I had no idea where we were going, but assumed the crowd would take me there.
By the time I found my way outside into the courtyard of the small village, the woman was already standing in the back of a wagon heavily roped to a post. One of the men tugged at the horse’s reins and the wagon move forward, the crowd in tow.
We must have walked a mile or so, over a hard, densely packed earth trail that took us out the end of town and through a darkened wooded area. At the edge of a green field, just beyond a massive oak tree whose branches reached far and wide, the wagon stopped in front of a pile of chopped wood and the poor woman was removed, only to be retied to another post standing nearby.
The two men began stacking firewood at her feet and the crowd joined in, building a mound up over her ankles and almost to her knees. The wigged judge, whom I hadn’t noticed while flowing with the crowd, stepped forward with a lit torch and tossed it onto the pile. It rolled up against the woman’s leg and flared. The woman shrieked and her wide eyes, full of pain and fear, sent a chill down my spine.
The heap began to catch and the woman somberly looked off to the side at that little girl, tears streaming down both their faces. The flames grew higher and higher and by the time they had reached the woman’s breast length blond hair, she was slumped forward and silent.
The crowd began to file away and I immediately felt lost. Various folks, both men and women, young and old, strolled past me before the little girl came and looked up at me. She reached out and with her tiny soft hand, took hold of mine.
The blur came again and I was back, sitting in the diner and looking up at the blond, a crooked smile spanning across her face. Still reeling and partly dizzy, I glanced away toward the other patrons. They too had that same type of eerie, wicked like smile. Looking back at the woman, she just winked and patted my hand.
“Lunch is on me, and be sure to stop by the museum on your way out of town.”
Yeah, right, I thought to myself, getting up and stumbling quickly to the door.
Now I don’t know what compelled, but at the door, I turned to take a last look.
No longer a pleasant view her face was now that of a wrinkled and decrepit old crone with mostly missing teeth, the others blackened. Seeing my glimpse, she broke into a hysterical cackle and the patrons joined in, both in appearance as well as action, and I took off out the door.
Spinning tires through the gravel lot, my car gripped pavement and shot forward. Fleeing, maintaining a vigil in the rear view mirror, I half expected to see them streaming out of the door after me, maybe on broomsticks. After rounding a bend, the diner out of site, I focused on road signs and let up a little on the accelerator.
Just as I came to highway 128, there was a billboard depicting a majestic oak tree sporting a noose by a field with a blazing bonfire in the background and reading, Visit the Salem Museum, where the horrors took place!
I turned onto the highway and pressed down on the gas.
Twelve hours later, at home, the anxiety hadn’t completely waned and I pondered how to write an interview I hadn’t even given. Perplexed, conflicted and cogitating that the trip probably fell somewhere on the lower side of the scale between success and failure, I decided to simply attempt fiction. As my word processor booted up, I went to get more than a smidgen of brandy.
When I came back, one single sentence had mysteriously been typed.
There are things worse than spiders. Tread lightly and never forget!
The sifter fell from my shuddering hand and shattered on the tile floor. I didn’t care and slammed the laptop closed.
Trembling, I peered from window to window to window. Outside was black as coal.
It would be another week before I reopened the laptop to find the words gone.
Sitting here in front of a blank page, I solemnly promise to never forget and am most certain to leave well enough alone.
Three weeks later fear had diminished and I was taking a sip from my newly purchased sifter when I begin to wonder if a Hunchback spirit somehow lingers at Notre Dame.
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