Gather 'round kiddies, and I'll tell you a tale of an old woman, just a smidgen younger than me.
It began not too long ago. This woman lived all alone in a large house on a hill.
Most children, and most people for that matter, were terrified of her, and never visited. But it wasn't the woman that frightened them, it was the house.
Being an old mansion, it had an ominous look to it. The woman was unable to keep up with repairs, which made it look more decrepit and frightening.
The lone tree in the front yard was nearly as tall as the house itself. And like the house, it had a look that sent chills down most people's spines.
Its limbs curl in the most unusual ways. Sometimes if you caught it at just the right time, it seemed to move even though the air was completely still.
It may surprise those people to know that the old woman who lived in the house was very kindly. It was the overall look of the house and property that kept people away.
I've known this woman for a long time. She could be called many things, quirky, eccentric, even strange, but not evil. The house kept people away, isolating her from society.
Strange things sometimes happen to people who are isolated. They begin to see the world in a different light. The things they have around them become much more precious to them. Anything that happens to those things becomes a much greater injustice in their eyes.
This old woman's biggest problem was, like everyone else, she had her breaking point.
It became a tradition around Halloween, this woman's house would become a target for eggings, cornings, even a brave soul or two would get close enough to do the 'doggie doo fire bag' routine.
These all annoyed the old woman, but not as much as the toilet paper in the tree. Rolls and rolls of it. At one point, she considered investing in 'Charmin' stock just before Halloween.
Every night the onslaught of garbage began just after dark, and usually ended around midnight. Every morning the house looked mysteriously untouched. It was like some giant vacuum cleaner had come along and sucked up al the mess.
Johnny and his friends had personally egged, corned, and TP'd the house five times in the same week. With Johnny doing the 'doggie doo' bag himself. And every morning when they walked past the house on the way to Jr, high, Johnny would be furious to see it clean again.
"She must come out at night and clean it up." Johnny said. "I just don't know how she does it all in one night, especially the toilet paper. It must be thirty feet to the top of that tree."
"Maybe she uses a ladder." Chris said.
"I don't know, but I've got to find out." Johnny said. "Tonight, we'll all meet near the old lady's house around midnight. We'll find out her secret."
All five of them met about quarter til twelve. It was a cool October night. The dry leaves raced around the yard playing a furious game of tag, at the whim of the wind.
The house had been hit hard that night. Eggs covered the windows, corn littered the porch, and the tree was white with toilet paper. So much TP that it looked like an early snow. The boys found a spot out of sight in the bushes where they could see the front porch. They pulled their jackets close around them, and waited for a long time, with boredom as their only companion.
Their resolve started to wane when storm clouds began to roll up. They were about to give up when the old woman walked out onto her porch.
Looking at her, Johnny was somewhat surprised. She didn't look the way he thought she would. Yes, you could tell she was old, especially in the face, but she wasn't bent over, didn't have a long nose with a wart on the end. She was wearing a light jacket instead of a shawl. None of the stereotypes Johnny had expected.
'I guess I thought she'd look like a witch from the movies.' Johnny thought to himself. The boys all tried to stay out of sight.
They watched as she surveyed the carnage and slowly shook her head. The tree started moving and creaking, making noises the boys had never herd a tree make. The old woman looked at the tree, then turned and looked straight at the bushes they were hiding behind. There was a blinding flash, then darkness. Johnny's last thought was, 'What is that in her hand?'
Johnny woke in a small room. He was laying on a soft carpeted floor, covered with a beautifully embroidered quilt. The other boys were laying the same way, still asleep.
Johnny rose and started looking around the room. Covering the walls were pictures. Old style pictures in beautiful frames, some showing portraits, some showing groups of people. Most of them were young, not much older than the boys currently in the room.
Johnny looked at the pictures more closely, they all seemed normal except for the look in their eyes. It was a cross between confusion and panic.
The old woman entered the room carrying a tray. She seemed surprised to see Johnny awake.
"Are you feeling better young man?" She said in a voice that sounded much softer and melodious than Johnny expected.
"What did you do to us?" Johnny demanded.
"Me?" She said. "Not much, just save your life."
Johnny's jaw dropped. "What are you talking about?"
"A bolt of lightning hit the bushes you boys were hiding behind. It knocked me down, it was that close. When I was able to get up, I came over to check on you boys. The others were merely unconscious, but you weren't breathing. I had to give you mouth to mouth to get you breathing again."
Johnny looked at that wrinkled face, and imagined her old, wrinkled lips pressed against his, he suppressed a shudder.
"I guess I should thank you." Johnny said hesitantly.
"You're very welcome young man." she said smiling, revealing several rotting and missing teeth. "It was my pleasure." She said with a wink. Johnny fought back a sudden wave of nausea, as the other boys began to stir.
They got up and began asking the same questions Johnny had. As she patiently answered them all, Johnny looked out the window. It was still dark, with no trace of morning twilight at all. Johnny thought it couldn't have been more than one or two o'clock in the morning. Then a revelation slapped Johnny across the face. The yard was clean! Nothing in the trees, nothing on the porch. No eggs, no corn, no TP anywhere.
'Something's wrong.' Johnny thought. 'There's no way she could've cleaned up that fast.'
She suddenly looked at him, as though she was peering straight into his mind and reading his thoughts.
"What's the matter, sonny?" She said with a smile. "You look like you just seen a ghost."
"I clean up so fast?" She said, finishing his sentence.
"That's easy, I didn't. You boys have been unconscious for nearly a day now."
"That's not possible." Johnny said slowly.
"Young man, I believe you may be in shock, why don't you sit down."
Johnny sat in a comfortable chair that he didn't remember seeing before. He tried to run through the facts in his head, but his thoughts seemed fuzzy, and he couldn't focus.
"I brought you boys some stew. I knew you hadn't eaten in a while, and I thought you might be hungry."
She handed them each a warm bowl and a spoon. None of them realized how hungry they were until they smelled the wonderful aroma coming from the bowls. They hungrily dove into the delicious white gravy and morsels in the bowls. They finished their meals and asked for more, which she graciously provided.
Johnny was starting to feel a tug at his conscious.
'She's not so bad.' He thought. 'Maybe we should skip the tradition next Halloween.'
The old woman returned with five more bowls of stew, which the boys devoured.
"This is delicious." Chris said. "What's in it?"
"Well it's sort of Halloween tradition in this house." She started. "I fill a kettle halfway up with water, add some spices, then put in my main ingredients. Corn, Eggs, Toilet paper, and whatever else I find laying around the porch." She said, looking at Johnny.
The boys each turned a different shade of green, and vomited.
"Isn't this fun?" She said with a maniacal grin. "We should do this every year. Next let's play a game."
"A game!" Johnny spat.
"Yes. This game is called, 'Guess what I'm going to do next.'" She said, pulling a wand out of her pocket. Johnny's eyes grew wide as he realized he had seen that wand in her hand right before the 'Lightning' had struck. They froze in horror as a green glow emanated from the wand, dissolving their bodies into nothingness. An instant later, a new picture appeared on the wall. Johnny, Chris, and the other three boys standing still, as though they had posed for the picture, the same look of confusion and panic in their eyes.
She looked at the picture and smiled.
"Happy Halloween boys."
"You've crossed the line again, sister." Said a voice behind her.
The old lady whipped around impossibly fast.
"You startled me, sister." She said.
The visitor looked at the pictures on the wall.
"I see you've added to your collection."
"More rowdy kids, I don't expect they'll be missed."
"We can't allow you to keep doing this." The visitor said. "It makes more work for us to cover it up."
"These kids had to be punished!"
"I don't disagree, but there are many forms of punishment."
The old lady eyed her suspiciously.
"Why are you here?"
The visitor sighed.
"To punish you."
The old lady's wand came up in a flash, but the visitor was prepared. A brilliant orange light flashed out of her own wand before the old lady could aim hers. Her scream slowly diminished, as her body dissolved in an orange glow. Outside in the yard, a tree grew, but faster than any tree had ever grown. It grew taller and bigger by the second. When it finally stopped, it was fully grown, almost an identical match to the other tree, already in the yard.
"I'm sorry, sister." The visitor said sadly.
So, what do you think of my story kiddies? Did you like it?
They stared at her with blank faces.
The oldest boy quietly says, "We're sorry about the toilet paper."
"Think nothing of it." She smiled. "It's Halloween, boys will be boys."
She reached behind her.
"Have some stew. It's a recipe I got from my sister."
They look at the bowl of white gravy, with corn, and other chunks floating in it, and run out the door, screaming.
She walks out into the front yard, leans against one of the trees, and says,
"You see sister, other forms of punishment."
As if to answer, the tree creaks and groans.