I’m Jimmy Dickerson. I used to be a lot more skeptical. I didn’t believe in ghosts or the para-abnormal, didn’t believe in extraterrestrials or UFOs or any of that X-Files stuff. Only babies believed in monsters.
Our sixth grade teacher threw a Halloween party, several parents there to run the fun. I wasn’t into it much, it was just a way to get candy, which I guess was all right. I didn’t wear a costume, so whenever anyone asked I said I was a Jehovah’s Witness. They’d get all apologetic and respectful, and they’d say they didn’t know, but then I’d say ‘No. You don’t understand. This is my Jehovah’s Witness costume.’ Then they’d either laugh or get weird and walk away.
Damien came as Indiana Jones, the hat, a real bullwhip, and all. Harry wore a home-made robot costume. Al wasn’t in our class, but we’d seen him at recess wrapped up in gauze like a mummy.
I’d just gotten three new notebooks, those composition notebooks with the blotchy black covers. We went through a lot of them in my class because my teacher made us journal and we have a science ‘lab’ every week. They weren’t really much in the way of experiments, but she had this whole layout for setting it up, taking data, taking notes, drawing conclusions, all that stuff. One of mine took up ten pages—in sixth grade. Cheez.
I was in the back at the crafts table putting my name in them when Jon Campbell’s mom came in dressed as a witch. Black pointy hat, long black hair down to her waste, black cape, and one ugly mole on her nose. She carried a broom, too, of course.
Harry and Damien separated from the festivities and sat with me.
“That’s one strange lady,” said Harry.
When Harry sees something strange, that gets our attention. He’s always been the more open minded and systematic about things, so when something weird comes up, he looks at it carefully to find the reasons.
Damien pulled off his hat and used it to block his voice from the rest of the class. “I think she’s a real witch.”
“I almost believe you,” said Harry.
“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “It’s a costume. She’s wearing a wig, and that mole’s a fake.”
“I’m serious,” said Damien. “She scares me.”
I studied their faces. They looked scared, and I couldn’t tell if they were yanking my chain.
“All right.” I opened one of my notebooks. “Let’s be scientific about this.”
At the top of the first page I marked ‘Y-Files, Case #1.’ You know—to be the files that came after the X-Files. I thought it was pretty cool at the time, but it seems pretty silly now.
I wrote ‘Subject: Mrs. Campbell,’ and on the next line the heading ‘Observations.’
“Creepy,” said Damien.
“Don’t write that,” said Harry. “We can’t use that if we’re being scientific.”
I wrote down our observations about her, the way she glared at the kids and touched their heads like she was putting a hex on them.
“You can’t put ‘like she was putting a hex on them,’” said Harry.
I scoffed. “Why not? It does look like that, and you know what? Why not say that the effect is creepy? That’s a legitimate part of the observation, and it is creepy. You want to know why? Because it’s supposed to be creepy—it’s a witch costume.”
Normally I would write the hypothesis and the method to test it, but it didn’t seem to warrant the effort at this point.
“I’m going to pull her wig off.”
Damien gasped. Harry’s eyes went wide.
Damien leaned in close and whispered. “Are you crazy?”
That was enough to goad me. I got up and strolled up the right side to get behind Mrs. Campbell, who was at the front helping Shalondra make pipe cleaner spiders. I didn’t allow myself to think about it because I didn’t want to chicken out now.
She bent over slightly, her hand on the back of Shalondra’s chair.
I grabbed a big handful of the hair and gave it a firm tug. It didn’t budge. It felt like pulling on a rope attached to a big boat. I let go, snapping my hand back to my chest, palm open. Mrs. Campbell turned to me, a quizzical look that might have wondered what I was doing or perhaps considered the best marinade to use when she cooked me.
My scalp went cold and tight, and I was consumed by uncontrollable terror. I screamed.
“It’s real! She’s a witch! Run for your lives!” I dashed out of the classroom and down the hall toward the main corridor. I heard footsteps behind me and swerved into the cafeteria. I hid behind a janitor cart, the big trash can giving me cover. Footsteps came in, and I stopped breathing, pulled myself into a tight ball as small as I could make it.
I recognized Damien’s whisper and peaked from behind the cart. Harry crept up behind him.
“C’mon.” Harry waved them to the back of the cafeteria. “We’ll take the back hallway to the computer lab. Hunker down until she’s gone.”
The Assistant Principal, Mrs. Plummer, found us about an hour later. We were reluctant to come at first, but she said the Halloween party was over and the helpers had all gone. I expected she would be angry with us, but she had a bemused look on her face, as if she was a witch sympathizer who knew about Mrs. Campbell all along.
Back in the classroom, she encouraged Jon to show us pictures of his mother at home. She didn’t have the hat or the cape, but her hair was just as long, which made me cringe. I couldn’t see the mole on her nose, but the pictures were small and makeup does wonders.
I nodded to him, but I couldn’t know for sure. Of course he’s going to stick up for his mom.
When experience winds up so much different than expectations, it shocks your equilibrium. ‘Equilibrium’ is a word my mom uses to mean ‘inner peace’ or something like that. My equilibrium was shocked. I’d grabbed for a wig and came up with Mrs. Campbell’s real hair, attached to her head, grown long in a creepy manner you don’t see among normal people.
Was she just a long-haired weirdo in a costume? Or was she something truly sinister? I strongly suspected the latter, but proof was elusive, and I could no longer go on being the radical skeptic I was before. At the bottom of the page that I’d marked as case number one, I wrote the word ‘unsolved.’