“She’s a witch.”
“Is too – and I’ll prove it to you.”
“Well hurry up. I’m soaked.”
Sean and Milo stood at the entrance of the shuttered drug store, the only place on the street sheltered from the pounding rain. The runoff was pooling against Milo’s shoes.
“Anyway, how are you gonna prove it?” he asked. “You don’t even know she’ll be here.”
“She’ll be here.”
Milo buried his hands deeper in his pockets and pulled his jacket tight across his shoulders. The wind had picked up and it was pressing fat drops of rain down his collar.
“We’ll see,” he grumbled.
The road shimmered with a thousand neon lights and a thousand ghostly twins: their reflections wavering in sheets of wind-swept water. But for all the glare, the street was empty.
“Come on, man – my mom and dad are gonna kill–”
“Shhh. Shut up. Listen.”
“This is the fourth time you thought you heard something,” he said. “Let’s just give it up.”
“No, listen. This time it’s for real.”
Milo stepped forward, nearly into the rain, and cupped his hand behind his ear so Sean could see. He rolled his eyes up and squinted as though listening with singular intensity.
“Hmm?” he said, but then his face went slack as he heard it: the gentle patter of feet in a puddle. Sean saw his expression change and nodded.
Sean pulled Milo back out of sight and they waited. The footsteps continued – shuffling here, splashing there, stopping every now and then for who-knows-what – until at last a tiny hunched figure came around the corner and started across the street.
She was four feet tall at most, cloaked from head to toe in a single black shawl. It swept the ground, soaked and frayed at the bottom, and dangled like a sleeve from her downturned face. Her shoulders swayed as she walked.
Milo looked to Sean for a signal, but Sean only held up his hand. He shook his head slowly and pointed.
The old woman had stopped in the street, her head swinging left to right, right to left, as if she could smell the boys close by. Beneath the shawl, her elbows made roving peaks of cloth as she searched for something in the folds. Finally there were three sharp clicks, and a dim orange light flickered in the outline of the hole where her face would be.
Smoke drifted up and was scattered by the rain. The gypsy shuffled on.
“Come on,” Sean whispered.
They followed her from half a block back, her form nothing more than a hole in the lights ahead of them. She led them down into the old town, onto uneven cobblestones and narrow cart paths. She stopped a moment at the old school, looking up into the black windows and across the empty yard. She stopped again by the church where she lit another cigarette and smoked it to a stub.
She walked slowly but never ambled, drawing them steadily downhill toward the harbor, and at last they reached the water’s edge.
“This is where she lives,” Sean said. “This is where she takes her victims.”
“And then what?”
“They say she drowns them. You know about Jimmy Peebles?”
“Well this is where it happened,” Sean said.
The old woman was stopped ahead on the harbor walk, kneeling over the low granite edge and peering into the water below. Milo and Sean came up slowly, careful not to make a sound.
The sea brushed against the wall, hissing as the rain came softly down. A gull cried from the pier and the water slurped as a boat tugged against its mooring. Sean had stopped but Milo kept going, creeping toward the old woman, the gypsy, the witch, as she knelt toward the sunless horizon.
Sean motioned frantically for Milo to stop, but Milo paid him no mind. He had come up behind the old woman at the sea wall now and he could hear that she was crying.
This is the fourth post in the series of writing challenges that I’m calling Stolen Identities Week. Check back for a new story each day this week, and maybe even write one of your own! The rest of the stories (and more) can be found on my fiction page.