The Witch Next Door
By Julia Paes '25
Jim Carter was very familiar with witchcraft. He once had a friend, Jon, that liked to practice all sorts of magic: levitation, telepathy, shapeshifting, necromancy, and mind control. Along with his grandma, Jon lived next door to Jim, and being their neighbor, Jim had always heard all sorts of interesting things. Soon, he would come to find out that these things would be the reason he would later meet his doom. For now, Jon was gone and all that was left was his creepy, harmless grandma, Ms. Palmer.
“Come on, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Jim heard his friend say. Timmy had just moved into the house across the street and was being homeschooled for a while before he and Jim became friends.
Jim told Timmy with a devious smile, “Timmy, you’re always such a killjoy. Just have fun for once.”
“Wasn’t Jon your friend once?” Timmy asked.
“He was a lunatic who drove everyone insane with his dumb magic acts. He did everyone a favor by going missing. Honestly, I would do the same if I were him,” Jim replied, pulling a container of deviled eggs out of his backpack. Timmy gave a grimace of sadness. Jim unsealed the container and launched the deviled eggs at Ms. Palmer’s front porch. The eggs splattered all over the place and began to produce a sickeningly foul stench that contrasted with Ms. Palmer's dainty-looking house. Timmy snatched the egg container out of Jim’s hands.
“Okay, I think you made your point,” he said in annoyance as Jim grinned at his mess,” Let’s leave n-” Before Timmy could even finish his sentence, the door to the front porch flew open. A glaring old lady appeared behind the door, her stare lingering on Timmy who was still holding the container.
“What do you two think you’re doing?” she scolded.
“Sorry,...Ms. P-palmer, m-ma’am,” Timmy stuttered. Jim caught sight of the look in the old woman’s eyes and shuddered as a chill ran down his back. He could understand now why Timmy sounded like a scared little kid.
“Leave my property at once or I’ll have no choice but to call the cops,” the old lady told them both in a booming voice.
Jim grabbed Timmy’s arm and dashed out of Ms. Palmer’s lawn faster than he could ask: “What’s wrong, Jim?” Jim snapped back into reality as he heard his teacher call his name.
As Jim looked around, horror crept into his face. Long shadows shaped like phantoms spilled from the ceiling. They stared at him with glowing eyes. Jim felt sick instantly and threw up all over his desk. The teacher decided to send him home and advised him to return only until his sickness went away. Once he finally reached his street, the shadows chased him and he took off in search of Timmy when his parents weren't looking. Jim’s stomach dropped as he knocked on Timmy’s door and felt the breath of something brush against his neck. Luckily, the door opened just in time for Jim to avoid the claws of the hungry shadows. The shadows dissipated as soon as he found company, but what confused him was not the shadow’s sudden disappearance. A young woman in her late 30s stood at the door with a confused expression. Timmy's house was unexpectedly spacious and clean.
"Is Timmy home?"Jim asked the woman.
"Sorry, you've got the wrong house. No one named Timmy lives here, it's just me," the woman responded in an apologetic tone. The door closed in Jim's face just as he felt a tapping on his shoulder. He turned around to see it was Timmy.
"My mom loves to play pranks on my friends," Timmy explained. Jim didn't think that Timmy had any other friends."Why did you come to see me?" Timmy inquired.
"It's that old hag whose house we egged, she put a curse on me," Jim explained.
"Ms. Palmer?" Timmy queried with a furrowed brow.
"I knew something was off about her as soon as she looked me in the eye. She's a witch!" Jim declared. Timmy gave a sad, unconvinced smile.
All of a sudden, Jim heard a voice in his head. It was the voice of Ms. Palmer saying, "You have one hour to reap what you sow."
"Jim, you need to be careful," Timmy warned once Jim was done explaining the voice in his head, "If you don't get rid of these shadow things, you might get yourself into trouble."
"How do I get rid of them?" Jim asked in exasperation.
"Reap what you sow," Timmy repeated the words of Ms. Palmer. Jim knew exactly where to go.
Darnestown Elementary School looked as miserable and dreary as ever. It was getting dark outside since Timmy insisted they take a shortcut and they ended up getting lost in the forest. Timmy had given Jim a timer that counted down from an hour so that they knew how much time they had, but now their time had been reduced to a few minutes. As Jim stared at the front door of his school, he began to feel lost.
"Now, what do I do?" Jim asked. Timmy shrugged. Jim began to walk toward the locked building when he spotted the playground. Timmy followed as Jim took off in the direction of the slide. "Jon used to always practice his magic behind the slide. It was a great hiding spot," Jim told Timmy with a whisper of a smile. He knew now that this was Ms. Palmer's idea of revenge. "I think I know what Ms. Palmer wants. She wants me to feel regret for what I did to Jon, but no amount of apologies will bring him back," Jim stated.
Seconds later, Timmy was being swept off the ground by a darting shadow. "Quick, do it!" Timmy shouted, suspended in mid-air, "Say you're sorry!"
Jim panicked and reached for Timmy, "Okay, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry please let him go, Ms. Palmer," Jim pleaded. The shadow continued to pull Timmy away as Jim caught hold of his sneaker. "Why isn't it working?" Jim screamed.
Timmy hung his head, "You weren't being sincere." Timmy clenched his eyes shut and whispered something inaudible as the shadow vanished into thin air. Timmy tumbled onto the ground.
Amongst all the commotion, Jim heard the familiar hum of something that made his stomach churn.
The illusion started to crumble. The playground began to fade into a train station as Timmy scrambled off of the tracks.
The ground rumbled under Jim's feet.
The hum of magic grew weak in his ears and died out.
Jim turned slowly to face Timmy. In Timmy's place, stood Jon. His face twisted into a smile, eyes glittering. He watched as the train neared Jim.
*One year ago*
It had all happened one sunny day back when Jon Palmer still attended Darnestown Elementary School. Children played tag on the fresh fields of grass and waited for their turn on the monkey bars. Only Jon sat alone on the playground, practicing his magic tricks. Hidden out of sight, Jon sneakily practiced the magic trick where he levitated a few inches off the ground. Little did he know that his friend, Jim, was just around the corner.
“Jon, how did you do that?” Jim cried out in disbelief as Jon’s feet made contact with the ground again. Before Jon could answer, a group of older kids approached them.
“There he is. It’s the little magic boy with his fake little magic tricks,” the leader of the group said with a sneer.
“They’re not fake and I can prove it this time,” poor Jon said with a tremble in his voice.
“Oh, yeah? Then do it, prove it,” one of the taller boys commanded. Jon tried his levitating trick again but to no avail.
The bullies started toward Jon, but he held a hand up turning to Jim and saying, “Wait, you saw me do the trick, didn’t you, Jim?” The boys looked at Jim and waited for an answer. “Tell ‘em,” Jon pleaded. Jim shook his head.
“Sorry, he’s a phony, guys.” The boy in front pointed his chin in Jon’s direction.
“Get him.” All at once the bullies surged forward and shoved Jon down onto the ground. Jim watched as Jon thrashed around helplessly, tanbark flying all around as the boys raised their feet to kick him. If Jim remembered anything about that day, it was the hum of magic that followed him in his wake and the helpless way that Jon looked at him before he was never to be seen again.
Now as Jim stood, facing the train tracks, with the realization of his betrayal rushing in, he couldn’t help feeling exactly what Jon felt in that moment on the playground: helpless.
Jim closed his eyes, tears rolling down his cheeks as the timer hit 0:00.