Until I was eleven years old, I lived in a small town called New Canterbury, Massachusetts. It was four miles south of Salem, and anyone who lived there would tell you it was just as haunted.
The first time I actually went back was nearly twenty years after we moved away. My Aunt Jen had died of a heart attack; her funeral was being held at the community church on May 13. Upon hearing the news, my brother and I immediately booked a hotel room.
After the funeral, we took a walk down Main Street and turned onto Cedar Boulevard—the street our old house was on. Before arriving, I hadn’t realized how much of my childhood I’d actually forgotten. The parts I could recollect sat in a dusty box in the back of my mind. But once I saw the pale blue walls of house number 317, that box exploded into a nostalgic mess. Old thoughts rang in my ears, forgotten feelings poked at my chest, hidden memories played so clearly behind my eyes that I couldn’t believe my brain had packed them away for so long.
“Oh my God … Ben, do you remember this?” I said. “I can’t believe it. It looks exactly the same.”
“Yeah, a little bit …” he said slowly. He pointed to the front lawn. “You and that girl used to play out there a lot, right?”
I paused. “What girl?”
Ben ran a hand through his hair. “That girl—God, I can’t remember her name. That skinny African American girl who lived across the street.” He turned around, now pointing at house number 318.
It was far more run-down than our old house. The paint was chipped and flecked with dirt, the bottom window was cracked, the grass in the yard was dying. It looked like no one had lived there in ages.
“I don’t know …” My eyes traced the building, landing on a particularly distinct crack in the wall. It coursed down from the roof of the building all the way to the ground, like a streak of lightning. That’s when it all came rushing back.
I first met Elsie when I was seven years old.
I was an awkward-looking child. My hair was bright red and only reached halfway down my neck. I had pasty, freckled skin and limbs that felt too long. The kids at school made fun of my appearance, and at the time, I didn’t blame them. But Elsie was the first person who wanted to be my friend.
Despite living just across the street from each other, I’d never seen her before. The day I met her, she was sitting on our lawn, facing a rosebush. I had been walking the family dog, Sandy, only to come home to this strange girl in my yard. Startled, I gripped Sandy’s leash and shuffled toward her.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Elsie. I live across the street.” She didn’t look up. Her voice was high and squeaky, even for a little kid. “Who are you?”
“I’m Nora. I live here.” I watched her for a moment. Her mouth was moving, but no noise was coming out. “What are you doing in my front yard?”
“Talking to my friend.” She stuck her left hand out at one of the roses. A bumblebee crawled out of the flower and onto her finger. “His name is Marvin.”
My jaw dropped. “You can talk to animals? Are you magic or something?”
She looked at me warily, hesitating to let Marvin fly away, then stood up. “I’m a witch,” she whispered. “But you can’t tell anyone, ’kay?” She raised her right pinky. I shook it with my own.
An idea came to me. “Can you talk to Sandy?” I asked eagerly, lifting her up clumsily. She was a small dog, but I struggled to hold her in my arms.
Elsie looked into Sandy’s eyes. Her mouth moved silently again, pausing every few seconds. Finally she looked back up: “Sandy doesn’t like it when you hold her that way.” She burst into peals of laughter as my face flushed red. I put the poor dog back on the ground, stroking her apologetically but failing to contain my own embarrassed giggles.
“Do you have any other powers?” I asked.
She grinned impishly. “I can make something amazing happen right now.”
She looked up at the sky and began talking, but I couldn’t understand anything she was saying. It was as if she was speaking a foreign language. My brain was rejecting the words spilling from her mouth, unable to comprehend the unfamiliar tongue.
She didn’t seem to notice my confusion. When she finished, she looked directly at me. Her eyes had transformed from a deep brown to a shocking blue. I marveled at the difference.
“Cool,” I breathed, unable to look away. “Was that the power?”
She shook her head. A grin tugged at her lips as she whispered, “Watch this.”
Elsie squeezed her eyes shut. A gentle breeze blew her hair back, soft at first but increasingly stronger. The breeze became more and more forceful, spiraling into a violent wind that circled around her petite body like a tornado. Her hair stuck out all around her now; the long, black coils reminded me of Medusa’s head of snakes, lashing about in a wild frenzy.
I was motionless as I watched her. She was no more than three feet away from me. I could feel the vibrations of the wind right before my face; it was now moving so fast I could see it. It enveloped her like an ocean wave, clear and tendril-like, but almost reflective—I could see sunlight bouncing off of it and even a rippled picture of my own face right before me. It was loud, too, producing a thick whooshing noise, as if the volume of a regular gust of wind had been amplified a hundred times.
The tunnel of wind began to take on a darker hue. I looked up to find the clouds turning gray. Thunder roared above us, almost as deafening as the rushing wind. Sandy whimpered. I gave her a reassuring pat on the head but was too enthralled by Elsie’s magic to be of much comfort.
Rain fell from the sky. Like the wind, it started off slowly but was soon erupting from the clouds like bullets. I laughed wildly against the outpour, but my voice was drowned out by the storm. Elsie, still encased in her tunnel, seemed unaffected—while my clothes were soaked in seconds, hers remained dry.
Lightning illuminated the dark sky with a startling blue glow—the same color Elsie’s eyes had turned. The crackling brilliance snaked across the sky like an electric vein. I gazed at it, captivated.
There was an earth-shattering CRACK! next to us. I was wrenched from my trance. The house across from mine trembled. A black fracture smoldered in the front wall, zigzagging from the roof down to the earth. Smoke drifted in the air, gliding among the rain like an angry ghost. Sandy howled, cowering against my leg. My heart had jumped to my throat.
Elsie’s eyes flew open.
“No!” she screamed. The sound was muffled, but her high-pitched voice was distinct enough to cut through the rushing wind. Before I had time to look away, it had all stopped. The lightning vanished, the thunder hushed, the rain ceased, the clouds melted away. The world was silent again, frozen. Elsie stood before me with wide eyes—I could see they had returned to their normal brown. Her hair tumbled back around her face, the thick curls bouncing slowly to a halt. Everything became so still that it felt as if nothing had moved it in the first place.
I could hear a vicious hissing from where the lightning had struck, but I kept my eyes on Elsie. Her hand was clasped over her mouth.
It felt like a lifetime before I broke the silence. “Was that supposed to happen?” I stuttered. My voice was small. I felt small.
She shook her head nervously. “That’s my house. My mom’s gonna kill me.”
She never created another storm, not that I can remember. But she did show me all sorts of other magic. She had collections of rocks and crystals, herbs and spices, even little animal bones, all with different magical properties. One glassy purple crystal could help you see the future, and one smooth orange one could give you immeasurable strength, at least temporarily.
We would sit on the lawn together, and she would talk to little birds and bunnies and deer, as if she were a fairytale princess. She could make flowers bloom from her bare hands and trace galaxy-like illusions into the air. She could blow flames onto the end of a stick, then put them out with the snap of a finger. She could manipulate time so the minutes we spent together felt like hours.
When my family moved away, my mom promised our new house would be just as nice as the old house. We’d make new friends just as nice as our old ones. The new town would feel just like home in no time. And sure, I got used to it eventually; but I’d left something behind in New Canterbury that I would never find again.
“Nora? You OK?”
I glanced over at Ben. He was looking at me expectantly. I smiled.
“Elsie. That was her name.”
He smiled back. “So you do remember.”
I nodded, taking one more good look at 318 Cedar Boulevard. The fracture in the wall was faint now but unmistakable. Even after nearly two decades, it was ingrained in that old house like a tattoo. I pointed to it.
Lucy Verlaque is a junior in high school. She lives in Santa Clarita with her mom, dad, brother, sister, and cat. She joined WriteGirl in 2019.