Christmas time in the West Farms section of the Bronx. The year nineteen forty five.Three teenage friends run down 177th street playfully firing snowballs at each other, only stopping to mold new white weapons.Laughter echos under the old New York & Boston railroad bridge, but once out on the other side the teens become quiet.
Stopping in front of the old chestnut Victorian house on the corner of 177th and Wyatt street, the teens tried to imagine what sinisterness goes on behind the closed gate and the front door beyond it. Trees striped bare of leaves from Winters windy push and pull with Fall helped give the front yard of the house a sense of foreboding.
” I bet you a quarter Nate you wouldn’t go up to the witches door and knock on it,” said Tony Aponte, a stout boy wearing John’s bargain store black high top sneakers,blue jeans,and a navy pea coat covering layers of sweaters.A Yankee’s cap helped Tony retain his body heat. Wet wool gloves helped him mold a new snow ball with a rock in the center.
” Show me the quarter and I’ll do it. Don’t make me no mind,” countered Nate Duncan the tallest of the trio. Brown skinned in a lumber jack hat and coat, jeans and dark boots, Nate was fearless but knew of the stories about the old out of place house. ” In fact give the quarter to Herbie to hold cause I don’t trust you Tony,” said Nate.
” Guys I don’t think this is such a good idea ya think ?” asked Herbie Smoltz. Surplus army olive green parka, black Converse sneakers,his lumber jack hat sporting flaps, an inch or two shorter that Nate, Herbie a mild mannered teen tended to think things out much to Tony’s I’m a teenager this is part of my job title annoyance.
” One time Johnny Fitzpatrick swore he saw the witch turn into an alligator one day honest. He was peeking in the window,”said Tony.The three of them were now standing in front of an iron and paint chipped horizon blue gate, the front yard had patches of icy snow. Beyond that a porch and a thick evil looking front door. The house was dark with no signs of anyone home.Tony with one wet glove fished a quarter out of his jeans pocket.
” Hey. Why don’t we take the quarter and go over to Southern Boulevard and get a few pickles from Meyer’s delicatessen,” Herbie wanted to get away from the house. His mother said the house dated back to when Starlight Amusement Park still operated across 177th street back in the 1920’s.
” Your scared to do it Nate. Aw you just think she’s going to grab you put you in a frying pan cook you up and eat you.Herbie if the wind blows or the sun rises you get scare golly but you get scared.”
” I don’t see you making any moves Tony.” Nate shot back.
” Don’t have to I got the quarter and if you two won’t I’ll…” Tony was about to deliver his snow ball like Vic Raschi and brake a window when a gray leather glove grabbed his arm. Tony dropped the snow ball.
” And if you two won’t you’ll do what young man?” Came a cheerful voice laced with a Floridian accent from behind them. Startled the boys turned a round and came face to face with an attractive older woman, skin like smooth caramel candy. Large but quiet eyes,soft mouth, her aquiline nose gave her a regal look. ” What are you young men doing ?” the woman asked. Impeccably fashioned from halo hat to her dress to high heels the mysterious woman was dressed in gray like the over cast afternoon. A gray fox wrap covered her shoulders and in her hand a gray clutch bag. ” I live here.” One long jet black braid of hair ran from under her halo hat half way down her back.
” Sorry Miss we mean no harm. We were just joshing a round. You know goofing it.Our friends said a witch lives here,” when ever they got in trouble Herbie was the one to talk their way out it.
” My names Miss Cordelia. Do I look like a witch to you ?” Miss Cordelia moved pass the boys to unhitch her gate in a fashion model like strut as if to prove the rumors false.Nate was feeling the first pangs of teenage infatuation.
” No.” they answered in unison.
” I tell you guys what. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, how about coming over for some hot chocolate with marshmallows on top or maybe some Ovaltine. Nate you like biscuits covered in Karo syrup right ?” Miss Cordelia offered.
” Yes ma’am.” Nate was bedazzled.
” So its a date then. How about six in the evening you guys. Is that good?”
” Cheewhiz I don’t know about that,” Herbie said.
” Herbie’s scared again Nate,” Tony taunted.
” No I’m not scared.Alright I’ll be there Miss Cordelia.” Herbie surrendered to Tony’s peer pressure.
” Six in the evening then it is. I’ll see all of you then.” The boys waved goodbye and resumed their running snow ball fight up Wyatt street then back onto 177th., where they turned and waved one more time at Miss Cordelia. Facing them she waved back while out of their view Miss Cordelia’s braid stretched itself , reached into her gray clutch bag took out her house key and unlocked the thick evil looking front door.
The boys met up at a quarter to six. Even though it was Christmas Eve none of them had a problem getting out the house. Tony’s family was so big he would not be missed, plus his lush of a dad didn’t have any gifts for him and his six siblings anyway. Nate’s father a Pullman porter, most of the time got payed late so Nate and his mother didn’t see any gifts until the 26th. And as a domestic she spent the holiday in a bone tired sleep. For Herbie Christmas was never the same for his mother and him after his father died during the invasion of Normandy.After one year of staring at the vacant place setting for his father at Christmas dinner; Herbie preferred to be outside.
” Hey Nate how she know you like Karo syrup loaded on your biscuits?” wondered Herbie. Opening the gate to Miss Cordelia’s front yard path as if they were regular visitors. All of them had on the same play clothes from yesterday, except Tony’s gloves were dry and he had a few drops of vitalis in his dark hair.
” I don’t rightly know,” said Nate rapping on the evil looking door.From an opened to an inch window the scent of Strawberry incense met the boys.
” Come to thing of it how she know our names?” Herbie was getting uneasy and nervous.
“She probably heard our moms yelling our names in the neighborhood,” said Tony.
” How she going’ to hear my mama holler at me from way over on Southern Boulevard Tony?!” said Nate turning away from the door and what could be a wrong idea about having hot chocolate with Miss Cordelia. Suddenly the evil looking door opened as if pushed by a gust of winter air. Standing before them was Miss Cordelia barefooted and in what only could be described as a Santa Claus red and metallic green dress Gibson girl in its style. The long jet black braid loosened, Miss Cordelia’s hair cascaded down around her shoulders.Quiet brown eyes replaced by glowing intense red ones.
” Come in my little loves, come in,” Before they could dash off her porch Miss Cordelia made a movement with her arms reminiscent of a belly dancer at the boys levitating them off their feet.Guiding them inside to a door under a stairway in a house that seem larger in dimensions inside then one saw outside, to a door flung open she guided them floating head over heels down into the basement. Tony screaming while Herbie and Nate struggled in silence.
” Now my loves I have to tend to the oven, but trust me I WILL BE BACK,” laughed Miss Cordelia. Her bare feet scratching against the wooden steps up to the kitchen. Each young man was stationed in a corner of the dimly lighted basement unable to move. Hexed into speechlessness they could only move their eyes. Herbie in his corner powerless, saw something that brought hopeless tears to his eyes. Along the wall near him were gaudy painted advertisements dating back to 1901, the kind one sees in circus sideshows,amusement parks,or carnivals : Cordelia The Belly Dancing Wonder from the East!,Cordelia The Fortune Telling Sorceress!, Cordelia The Alligator Woman! Each was an different incarnation of Cordelia from the beautiful to the hideous.In Nate’s corner a Crone hat aka conical black witches hat rested on a wooden stool, while Tony just stared at a brick basement wall.The terror pounding in Herbie’s head joined the footfalls of Miss Cordelia coming back down the stairs.
” You first Tony my little mischief maker.” She guided Tony hiccuping tears up the stairs. Minutes later the sound of an oven opening and closing could be heard.Herbie tried to talk to Nate but words couldn’t form in his mouth. Footfalls came downstairs again. Beyond the footfalls the aroma of spiced meat cooking, hovered at the top of the stairs.
” Nate your such a strong build young man. I wish I had a daughter for you to date. But alas.” blubbering Nate was floated upstairs.Herbie tried to clam himself and think of a way out of this. He was the one who always talked them out of jams. Maybe he could do it now although Herbie figured than Nate and Tony were pretty much in the oven by now. Down came the footfalls,one last time.
” Herbie you seem like the smartest one of the group,” said Miss Cordelia floated Herbie across the basement and up the stairs before he knew it, tears drops spun upward with the teenager.
Gaining his balance and freewill Herbie started to swing at Miss Cordelia and run for his life; but the sight in the kitchen stopped him.Sitting at a dark wood kitchen table his lower face stained with cherry pie was Tony intense on finishing his pie slice. A half finished plate of holiday dinner at his elbow as was a warm mug of hot chocolate. At the other end of the table was Nate engrossed in his plate of baked ham with all the trimmings and a side plate of hot biscuits drenched in Karo syrup.
” I… Tony… Nate…Miss Cordelia please let us go!” pleaded Herbie.
” I won’t harm you loves,” said Miss Cordelia eyes still glowing a ruby red. “Here sit down.” Pointing to a middle chair at the table the strange woman beckoned Herbie to sit, hesitant at first Herbie sat down only to jump back up when Miss Cordelia paced a cup of Ovaltine in front of him.
” Sorry that I frighted you boys but I had to make an example of you three. It has been a rather trying time with you neighborhood children and your misconceptions about me. Maybe the three of you can be sought of public relations for me in the neighborhood,” Miss Cordelia was fixing a holiday plate for Herbie, which once she placed it on the table he couldn’t resist sitting down and digging into.
” What’s public relations?” asked Tony whipping his face.
” Just letting people know I’m not some evil witch. But you guys have to got keep my secret. Do not mention what you’ve seen this evening,” she said.
” Are you ? ” asked Herbie. The trio stopped eating and drinking and looked up at Miss Cordelia’s glowing eyes.
” You have to ask love? I tell you guys what. I am of the light not the darkness. Figure it out, now do we have a deal?”
They all nodded affirmative. ” Great! You guys have vitality! Now finish up your holiday dinner I have gifts for all of you and gifts to take home to your families,then next Saturday I’ve conjured up tickets for the New York Rens basketball team. Don’t know much about the game but it should be fun,”said Miss Cordelia.
“What’s does conjure mean ?” asked Tony.
” Don’t ask love.” Miss Cordelia like a person forgetting to turn off their house lights shook her eyes from glowing red back to quiet brown.
**Note from the Author**