Curtain of Night ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
She didn’t know how far she had walked, but it seemed more than a mile but not quite two. Finally when she came to an old house at the end of a dirt road with a split tree she knew she had come to the right place. She walked up rickety wooden steps to the front door and knocked timidly. In a moment an old woman came and peered out at her through the screen.
“Yes?” she said.
“Mrs. Wakes?” the girl asked.
“I’ve walked all the way from town to see you.”
“Do you have any chocolate on you?”
“Are you alone?”
“Well, come on in, then. And make sure you don’t have no mud on your shoes.”
Stepping in out of the bright sunlight, she could barely see. It was the darkest house she ever saw. The windows were covered up on the inside.
“Come on back to the kitchen,” Mrs. Wakes said.
She pulled a chair out from a table and gestured for the girl to sit. She took a glass and filled it with ice-cold water and put it on the table in front of her. “Better tell me who you are,” she said. “I like to know who I’m dealing with.”
“My name is Ernestine Bird. I live in town with my papa and my mama and my younger brother Gaither. My papa owns the feed and grain store. I go to church every Sunday.”
“What can I do for you, Ernestine Bird?”
“People say you’re a witch.”
“Are you a witch?”
“Do I look like one?”
“I’ve never seen a witch so I couldn’t say.”
“Some call it one thing. Others call it something else. If you feel good calling me a witch, then go ahead and do it.”
“You sell potions and things.”
“I don’t call them potions. They’re medicines, restoratives, mixtures, compounds and what-not. Whether or not they work is very often in the mind of the person using them.”
“Do you have something that could cause a person to die mysteriously, but really fast and without any pain or choking or fits or anything?”
“There is something called ‘Curtain of Night’ that brings instantaneous death to those that take it. I don’t give it to just anybody, though.”
“That’s the thing I want.”
“Just who is it you want to die?”
“It’s for me.”
Mrs. Wakes looked directly at her face as if studying her. “I don’t usually give it to people who want to use it on themselves,” she said. “It’s mostly always used for a sick family member who can’t get well or for revenge against an enemy.”
“I promise you nobody will ever know where I got it.”
She sat down at the little table and took Ernestine’s right hand in her own and turned it palm up.
“Are you going to read my fortune?” Ernestine asked.
“Nothing as silly as all that,” she said. She rubbed her palm against Ernestine’s palm. “Your hand is all sweaty.”
“I walked a long way.”
“Drink the water.” She pushed the glass toward Ernestine and watched as she drank.
“Now,” she said when the glass was empty, “tell me your foolishness, whatever it is. I’ve heard it all in my day.”
“There’s this boy I want to marry.”
“Oh, so it’s about love, then. Why am I not surprised?”
His name is Phillip Andrew Clague. He’s older than me. I’ve been out on dates with him exactly three times. He has a Ford that we ride in with the top down. One time we went to the picture show and the other two times for a drive in the country.”
“And he took advantage of you when you were least able to resist and now you’re in trouble, is that it?”
“Oh, no, that’s just the thing. He keeps his distance. He acts like I’ve got the plague or something.”
“So, he doesn’t like you very much, or not enough to suit you? Is that what you’re saying?”
“And you want to die because of it.”
“Recently he’s started stepping out with a girl named Hester Risley. She’s a whore but he doesn’t know it yet. I’ve heard from somebody who knows Hester that she’s got it into her head that she’s going to marry him. I can’t let that happen.”
“Is it worth dying over?”
“If I can’t have him I don’t want to go on living.”
Mrs. Wakes sighed. “Oh, foolishness, thy name is woman!” she said. “Take the word of an old harridan four times older than you. You don’t want to die over the first boy that bats his eyelashes at you. He’ll move out of your life and then somebody else will move in and, before you know it, you won’t even remember the name of the one you were willing to die for. It’s the way of young people. Go on home now and forget you were ever here.”
“I’ll pay you all I have. Twenty dollars.”
She leaned over and spit into a lard bucket on the floor against the wall. “Has it occurred to you,” she said, “that there might be some other way besides doing away with yourself?”
“I have the feeling you’re laughing at me.”
“I can give you a love elixir that will make any boy fall in love with you. Even one who thinks he doesn’t like you at all.”
“Is that possible?”
“It happens all the time. If you’re able to give him the elixir and take some yourself at the same time, he will love you throughout all eternity. Your spirit will be locked together with his as though you are one, forever and ever.”
“I’d like some of that, please.”
“Not so fast. You have to ask yourself if you really love him that much. You have to be sure because there’s no way to undo it.”
“The answer is yes.”
“How much do you know about him?”
“I know enough.”
“Do you know what his personal habits are like? Does he keep his word? Is he kind to animals? Is he kind to his mother? Do you know his opinions on the important subjects of the day? Is there anything going on in that head of his behind his pretty face?”
“I know enough, I tell you.”
“I want you to think about these things. Go away and come back in one week. After a week’s reflection, you might change your mind.”
“I don’t have one week and I won’t change my mind! If he decides he’s going to marry Hester Risley, it’ll be too late.”
“It’s your funeral. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“So you’ll let me have it, then?”
“I don’t know yet. Only on the condition that you’ll think about it for a while before acting.”
“And, also, you’ve got to understand there are no guarantees.”
“Are you saying it might not work?”
“It’s not a hundred percent foolproof. Most of the time it works but not always.”
“If it doesn’t work, will you give me back my money?”
“After you leave here, you assume full responsibility for what happens or doesn’t happen. By the time you get back to town, you’ll forget that I exist or that you were ever here. You’ll have the love elixir but you won’t know where you got it.”
“How is that possible?”
“It’s something I do to you. In fact, I’ve already done it and you didn’t even know it.”
“You cast a spell on me?”
“Call it whatever you like.”
“Since the love elixir might not work, I want the Curtain of Night, too. Just in case.”
“I want you to make sure you understand the seriousness of the step you are about to take. You’re not playing a child’s game.”
“I know that.”
“Very well. Go into the next room and lie on your back on the bed. I’ll be with you in a few minutes.”
The room off the kitchen was just as dark as the rest of the house, but a small chink of light, enough to see by, came through at the top of a window. Against the far wall was a small bed with one pillow and a coverlet. She lay on the bed as Mrs. Wakes had instructed her to do and folded her hands over her abdomen. She breathed out and breathed in. Soon she was asleep.
When she came awake, she was on the road back to town with the odd sensation of not being able to remember how she got there, as if she had woken up while in the act of walking.
“She really is a witch,” she said to herself.
By the time she got back to town, though, she couldn’t remember Mrs. Wakes at all. When she got home and found the two tiny bottles in her pocket, one marked Love and the other Death, she couldn’t remember where they came from but she knew what they were for and how she was going to use them when the time came.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp