If you’re a frequent reader of this column, then you may think that the scariest place on Flamingo Street was the first house on the right, and you would be mostly correct.
Because in that dilapidated, white clapboard home lived the meanest kid who ever walked on Flamingo, none other than Down the Street Bully Brad. I say “mostly correct” because for one week out of each year, Bully Brad’s house wasn’t the scariest. There was another even more frightful.
At the other end of Flamingo, in the cul-de-sac, stood the solitary house belonging to Old Mrs. Crabtree, our third-grade teacher at Mt. Olive Elementary School.
For the year I spent in her class, she was never sick, never late, and never let us out early. That’s why it was so surprising when she was out and we had a substitute, not just for a day, but for the entire week before Halloween. All the substitute could tell us was that Mrs. Crabtree was on vacation.
Everyone in the class spent the entire week trying to guess where she had gone. It wasn’t until she returned to school the following Monday that I realized we were all wrong. I knew where she had gone and what she had done. Unfortunately, when I told the other kids, no one believed me.
It was the week before Halloween, and Mrs. Crabtree had just left for her vacation. And during that first night, her yard was magically turned into a truly frightful sight. A huge black caldron stood in the center of her yard. A white mist spilled over the edge before rolling out covering the entire yard in a thick, ground-crawling cloud. Scattered around the caldron were skeleton bones, grave markers, and a garden of dead flowers.
But the scariest part of her yard arrived each night right after sundown — a real witch with long gray hair, outfitted in a black cloak and pointy hat. With gnarled fingers, she gripped a giant wooden spoon and bent over that caldron, slowly stirring the green bubbling liquid. She paused only to sip and add ghoulish ingredients like rats, bats, giant snails, mushrooms and black moss. And every time she’d sip, she would let out a creepy cackle. If I close my eyes, I can still see and hear her to this very day.
Each morning the witch was gone, and the only sign she was ever there were a few pieces of charred wood still lying around the caldron. The crowd to see the Witch of Flamingo grew each night, and each night right at sundown, she magically appeared in a puff of green smoke, hobbled over to the caldron and started to stir, sip and cackle once again. The largest crowd was on Halloween night, when three more witches huddled around the black caldron, each taking turns stirring, sipping and cackling.
Halloween night, the Witch of Flamingo was magically inside Old Mrs. Crabtree’s house, answering each time the doorbell rang. Trick-or-treaters brave enough to make it past her coven in the front yard were rewarded when the door opened.
The Witch of Flamingo always handed out handfuls of the best candy any of us had ever tasted. As the candy dropped into our bags, she announced the same thing to each child. In a crackly voice she said, “Here you go, Deary.” With an eerie laugh that sounded more like a cackle, she closed the door and awaited another child.
The morning after Halloween, Old Mrs. Crabtree’s yard was completely clean with no signs of what went on for the entire past week. She returned to school on Monday, not believing any of the stories we told her about the witch. It was just after lunch when she gave us a math test. Halfway through, my pencil broke and I asked her for another.
She walked over, bent down, and placing the new pencil on my desk, whispered, “Here you go, Deary.” As she walked back to the front of the room, I could have sworn I heard that witch’s eerie creepy cackle once again.
Of course, no one else did. And no one back then believed me when I professed to know who the Witch of Flamingo actually was, but at least two people believe me now.
When I told the story above about the pencil and the laugh, our two granddaughters, Little One and Sweet Caroline, both interrupted me shouting, “She’s the witch, Papa! She’s the witch!” Any teacher that celebrates Halloween for an entire week like that is an unforgettable teacher.
Guess that’s why, after fifty-two years, I still remember my third-grade teacher at Mt. Olive Elementary School. Thanks, Mrs. Crabtree for all that you taught us, and for the unforgettable memories you gave each one of us.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]