The Storyteller: Light as a feather

“Ouch,” I said as drops of blood dripped from my fingertip into a tiny thimble.

“Hold still,” Matt said, “We need more if this is ever going to work.”

My head was reeling, but I was uncertain whether that was due to what happened earlier in the day or to the current bloodletting. I clinched my teeth and nodded for him to continue squeezing.

“We’re going to have to make the hole bigger,” Todd said as he looked over Matt’s shoulder. “I’ll go get my dad’s drill.”

I quickly pulled my hand away.

“No drills,” I said and then stuck my injured finger into my mouth.

The tiny hole, still bleeding, tasted metallic, as if I were rusting from the inside.

Moments before, Matt had stuck me with a sewing needle in the hope of drawing enough blood for our potion.

Halloween was only a few days away, and earlier in the week we had all watched “In Search of…,” a TV show where the host, deep-voiced Leonard Nimoy, explored mysteries. In this episode they had uncovered the magic of voodoo, highlighting a witch doctor who, by using chants and potions, was able to levitate.

And miraculously, through some secret and wholly previously undisclosed connection with the netherworld, Matt had somehow learned the secret ingredients for the potion. Apparently when consumed while chanting “light as a feather,” it would allow anyone to be lifted effortlessly by the fingertips of two assistants.

Our plan was to test the technique quickly and if it worked to then display our newfound voodoo to trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. I pictured myself floating in our darkened doorway, handing out candy to awed visitors as I hovered, ghostlike, while my two assistants remained out of sight.

As per Matt’s instructions, the items we’d collected up to that point included eye of newt (we could only find a squashed frog on the street, but we assumed it would work just as well), two gray hairs from a witch (my mom wasn’t an exact match, but, again, close enough) and the tooth of a child, which was not a problem because months earlier I’d found where my parents had hidden a bag of teeth in their closet. I hoped it was the tooth fairy’s stash, not wanting to think too hard about why they’d keep a bag of yellowing and increasingly brittle mementos from their children.

But we still lacked a thimbleful of fresh blood. We even lacked a thimble.

“Mom, what’s a thimble and do you have one?” I asked at lunch.

She was grilling a cheese sandwich, and its toasty-smelling steam lifted from the pan in ghostly whiffs. When she turned toward me I grinned. She chewed her lip for a moment and then turned back to the stove.

“I haven’t heard your plans for Halloween yet,” she said, not answering my question. “What are you planning to go dressed up as this year? Dracula again?”

She turned off the burner with a click and pivoted, twisting her wrist slightly to allow the crispy golden sandwich to slide onto my plate, its melted American cheese center oozing and dripping from the sides.

“Probably staying home and handing out candy this year,” I said, taking a bite. The hot cheese scalded the roof of my mouth.

She snorted through her nose and then gave a short laugh.

“You are staying home on Halloween?” she said. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“No, really,” I said, the words blurred by the half-chewed food. “I’m kinda too old for ringing doorbells.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“What are you and your friends up to?” she asked.

I grinned, this time with my lips closed and my cheeks full of masticated sandwich.

She shook her head slowly and sighed.

“A thimble is like a little metal cup people put over their finger while they are sewing. It protects them from being stabbed by the needle,” she said. “We might have one, but you’d have to look through your grandmother’s old hope chest.”

I gave her the thumb-up, finished my sandwich and headed to the garage.

Inside, a single faded light bulb dimly lit the otherwise dark space. The odor of mothballs and mold greeted me as I cracked open the ancient wooden chest. Within, filling half the chest were stacks of black felt-covered photo albums, each one full of brittle and faded pictures of people I had never known. When I was a small child my mother would sit with me as I flipped through the old books and point out my relatives while I focused more on their odd attire and the occasional old-fashioned vehicles. The most haunting photo was of a lanky man who sat on what resembled a huge tricycle with an enormous front wheel. His face was nearly featureless except for a wiry twisting handlebar mustache. Held out to the viewer, as if it were an offering, the man presented what my mother had said was a doll but what I knew was actually the severed head of a child. I was sure of it.

But this time I went straight to a black box inlaid with strips of iridescent abalone shell. Inside, a small red pillow in the shape of an apple was stuck full of sewing needles. I pulled a particularly thick one from its resting place and laid it on the cement floor. Then, under layers of buttons, an unwound yellow measuring tape and a pile of unzipped zippers I found the thimble and placed it by the needle and readied to close the chest.

Pausing for a moment I hesitated, wondering if the bike man had only been in my imagination. Moments later I was flipping through the photo albums until I reached the page. There his unexpressive face remained, his body frozen in place, his arm extended, clearly holding what I now knew for certain was the head of a child — a child with curly black hair, just like mine.

At that exact moment the lights went out and I heard heavy footsteps heading in my direction.

What happened next was another story.

Originally published in the St. Helena Star, November 2018