It was a book lauch party at a new brewery in Salem, Massachusetts, the celebration of an anthology of ghost stories on Halloween, and my story was in it. I wrote a tale about the revenge of eighteenth century drowned witches.
Because we were in the heart and soul of Halloween–Salem in October, it was also a costume party. I really got into it. I wore a long black dress with a black satin belt, black lace gloves, and a long gray wig. I covered my face with Manic Panic Ghoul face powder, circled my eyes with black eyeshadow, and plastered jet black lipstick all over my mouth. The result was very much like a drowned witch. I made my husband dress as an eighteenth century reverend, because there was one of those in my story as well. We were very eighteenth century Salem.
It all went south at the door because I didn’t bring my ID. It was stupid not to carry my license, but I didn’t want to ruin my look with a pocketbook. I didn’t think I needed to worry when I saw the doorman admit a group of Minions without stopping them, but as we came to the door, something felt wrong.
The doorman watched me approach with a look of revulsion under his neon green goatee. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe I looked too weird. Maybe I was acting too happy. He stopped us from going in with,
“Lemme see your IDs.”
While my husband dug his out, I smiled, flattered. I thought he was joking. I was over fifty, and it had been years since I had to show proof of my age. The doorman didn’t smile back, instead he gave me an I’m serious look.
“I’m sorry but I don’t have mine. We’re not here to drink, we’re going to the book party,”
He didn’t answer right away. He looked me over as if he found me ridiculous, and smirked. Then he narrowed his eyes, and my stomach dropped. I knew that look, I’d seen that look many times in my life. It filled me with dread because it told me that he was running the show.
“Why the hell would you come here expecting to get in without your ID?” he sneered.
“What makes you think you can just walk in my brewery without a license? You know where you are, right? You’re in Salem. In October,”
He paused to let that sink in while a line grew behind us. Then lectured me in a louder voice for others to hear.
“Did you even think that the police can walk through any time, and if they found you without ID, they would shut me down,” his voice got louder. “For a book party? I lose my business after sinking five hundred thousand dollars into it for a book party I don’t even know about!” He kept saying book party the same way you might say child kidnapping ring.
There were a couple of things I could have done: I could have asked him to stamp my hand with NO BEER, as he was doing for the young kids of parents who came to the brewery. I could have said “You’re absolutely right,” in a very sorry tone. Either of those things might have ended the situation because I would have acknowledged that he was in power. Instead I said the one thing to really set him off.
“But I have a story in the book.”
It was the equivalent of Do You Know Who I Am?
“No kidding, really? Well in that case, attention please! Everyone! Make way for the author! We’ve got a VIP!” My husband started to get angry, so I told him to find the editor and host so she could vouch for me.
As soon as my husband went inside, the doorman laughed. Then he let the people behind me go in without looking at their IDs. Instead, he watched me to see if I dared to say anything. I wouldn’t. I wanted to get into that party, meet my editor, the other authors, sign books, be part of the Best Costume contest, so I said nothing. As I stood in humilation, people filed past me. Someone whispered, “Well he’s not much fun for a guy with a green beard.” but nobody said anything.
My editor/hostess showed up with my husband, and the doorman turned on her as if she and I orchestrated a grand and evil plan to cause trouble at the brewery. Instead of clearing things up to get me in, she ended up apologizing profusely for the confusion. That was my introduction to the first person to publish one of my stories…by getting chewed out at her book launch on my behalf.
By that time I knew this guy wasn’t letting me in without my ID.
“You go inside,” I told my husband. I tried to sound calm and perfectly fine with the situation, “I’ll be right back.” I got the Are you sure? look. He would have driven back and forth for me, but we had invited friends and family to this party, they were inside wondering what was going on. My husband could go, but I would still be stuck outside. I tried to smile, which was lame, and came off as a little horrifying, but I wanted to put on a good show. As I turned to leave, a young couple wearing red plastic Devo hats came to the door and got waved right in.
I cried most of the drive home because I was so angry. I missed the signals, and I used to be very good at picking up on those signals.
I knew exactly the kind of person I was dealing with. In what felt like another life because I was so young at the time, I had spent years with someone who always made sure I knew my place. Someone who made sure I knew he was in control. I had years of trying to avoid dangerous moods, of trying to change moods so bad things wouldn’t happen to me. It never worked. I always paid. I managed to get out of that life, to get away from that person, but I never forgot it.
It was quiet when I finally made it back. There was no line to buffer me as I walked down the alley. The doorman sat on a tall chair near the entrance and watched me approach. I thought, Stay calm, say as little as possible,be polite and I handed him my license. He took it like I gave him a bag dog shit, looked it over for a really long time. then he said,
“Too bad you had to make two trips.”
I nodded. Say as little as possible.
“I guess you really wanted to go to your party.”
I nodded again. Stay calm
Then he said,“You know what’s funny? This picture looks nothing like you.” Be polite… but Jesus Christ, what the hell had I done to this guy!
He wasn’t going to let me in. He just enjoyed watching me run around, and suffer, and want to get in. He was a total shit. Then he flicked it back at me.
“Too bad you missed it. Everyone is gone,”
He stayed on his stool that blocked the door, so I had to squeeze by to get in. And he was right, the party was over. My editor was still there, but she looked tired and ready to go home. I introduced myself and apologized for the trouble I caused.
“No problem! Glad you finally made it, but it’s just about over. I’m sorry he gave you such a hard time. I think you’re the only one he hassled,” she said.
“I get it, he has to protect his business. No big deal.” I tried to keep the mood light, but was a very big deal to me.
She gave me a funny look, “What do you mean?”
“He told me he’d be closed down if the police came in and found me without my ID.”
She kept looking at me as if she had no idea what I was talking about.
“Him?” she said, “he’s not the owner!”
She burst out laughing at the astonishment on my face through my make up.
“Did he tell you that? That’s Bad Billy! He worked for the city until he got fired for peeing in the park. Now he’s a doorman, or a bouncer, or whatever anyone will hire him for.”
I stopped feeling angry, I was gutted.
“Why would he do that?” I asked.
“Who knows? Because he’s a jerk?”
I knew why he did it. Because it was fun for him.
I found my husband at the bar with a book signed by the other authors. Everyone was long gone. The drive home was quick and quiet. As soon as we got home, I threw my costume into the trash, took a shower, scrubbed my face raw, and went to bed. I was sure I’d lie awake in fury all night, but I fell right to sleep. I had a wild dream, the kind feels like it lasts all night, and where you just end up places without knowing how you got there.
I dreamed was a witch. Not just any witch, I was The Witch. With a lot of power, and a very strong sense of justice. I was in my costume, my wig and make up. I walked down the middle of the streets of Salem looking for Bad Billy and found him in his grimy basement apartment. Watching porn in a naugahyde recliner, in his dirty underwear, with a beer balanced on his fat gut. Instead of looking shocked to see me, he gave me that sneer, and said, “You really must love humiliation.”
I stood in front of him, blocking the television. He reached down to the lever with his right hand to drop the footrest. I pointed, and his hand froze into a claw. He looked shocked, then tried to reached over with his left hand. I pointed again, and his left hand froze into a claw. His beer tipped over and spilled down his belly into his crotch.
He tried to get up, bouncing his legs on the recliner. I pointed a third time and both legs shot straight out in front of him, feet pointed, toes curled in tight.
Bad Billy screamed, partly from rage, partly from the pain of his hands and feet which were cramping hard.
“What the fuck!” he yelled.
“Apologize for what you did to me,” I ordered like the boss witch that I was. I knew the pain was bad, but his humiliation in apologizing to me would be worse.
“What! Aaaaargh! What the actual-aaaaaaaaaah-FUCK!”
All he could do was half jack-knifes which caused him to slip forward on the wet cushion. The recliner tipped, and Bad Billy fell onto the floor swearing that he was going to kill me. I clenched my hand which made his fingers and toes cramp harder.
He screamed as I held my hand in a fist for a few seconds then released. I waited until he wound down to whimpers.
“Apologize,” I said again, “or I promise you will regret it.”
“Fuck you!” he yelled and started laughing. I pointed at him, and watched as he unfolded and yanked as if pulled up by an invisible rope. He was standing on his cramped toes which, by the look and the noise he was making, was agony. I slashed the air in front of his face, and he instantly went quiet. His eyes bugged out as he stopped breathing. I grabbed him by his green beard, disgusted at the idea that he probably would not to wash it out for the entire month of October.
“This is your last chance,” I told him as I waved my hand by his face to unlock his breath.
His look of fear turned to hate. Despite the terror of suffocation, pain of being forced to stand on his curled toes, despite his clawed hands, he threw his head back and laughed. So I drove my hand down his throat, and pulled out his heart. I held it up before his shocked face, then watched as Bad Billy fell forward and hit the floor. Hard. I stood over him for several moments, then dropped his dead heart in front of his unseeing eyes.
My husband woke me up the next morning with,“Hey, you’re never going to believe it! That asshole with the beard died! They found him in his apartment in his pissed underwear… Why didn’t you wash your face?”
“What?” I tried to get my mind around what I just heard. “Wait, what happened?”
“That dude Billy,” he said. “He died! They think he had a heart attack or something. It’s all over Facebook. Weird, huh?” Then he took the dogs out for a walk.
I was afraid to move. For a few minutes I tried to convince myself it was coincidence, I had nothing to do with it. It had to be a dream! I was angry no, furious at how he made me feel. After all those years, Bad Billy brought me right back to where I swore I’d never be again. My dream was something I thought I wanted to do, but there was no way I could do actually do…that.
I jumped out of bed and ran to the mirror. My face was a mess of smeared make up, like I never washed it off. I went to my closet, and there was the dress and the wig, both neatly hung up, when they should have been balled up in the trash. As I reached out to grab them, I saw my left arm was completely covered in thick, dried blood from my hand to my elbow.
And there it is. I did it. I know I did it, I know why I did it, I just don’t know how. And I can’t promise I’ll never do it again.