“All right class, does everyone have their gift baskets
ready?” Mrs. Thompson asked.
Kate quickly ran the edge of her scissors down the last
three strands of ribbon causing them to form into tight bouncy curls around the
handle of her basket. She rearranged the cellophane wrapped cookies again to
make them as presentable as possible. A couple of them had burnt and most were
sure to explode into crumbs after the first bite, but Mrs. Thompson had
insisted for everyone to make their own care baskets. A quick look around the
room told her that most everyone had just bought soaps, candies, house
slippers, or books.
The class was destined for Willow Shade Retirement
Community. The specific assignment was to bring gift baskets to its residents
to, hopefully, bring them some holiday cheer before the Christmas season.
Kate glanced at the name on the card attached to her
She hoped Cybil would appreciate the cookies, or at least
the effort. Kate had never baked before,
and aside from wrecking the kitchen, she ruined two batches before finally
making a dozen or so that was at least passable.
Her dad had tried to hide the fact that he spit his samples
out from the first two batches. At least he choked one down from the final
batch with only a slightly bitter face.
“Line up, we’re heading to the bus.”
“Kate! Here’s my half.”
Kate sighed as Carlie tucked a hand-made card between a
pair of cookies.
“So you just made a card?”
“Well, yeah. I spent almost a half an hour making it.”
“Do you have any idea how long it took me to bake these
“Some of us don’t have time to bake.” Carlie flipped one of
the cookies, exposing its too-brown underside. “Man, you must be terrible at
They joined the line leading out of the classroom and made
their way to the bus where they shared a seat. After a brief safety
instruction, the bus drove the class around to the Willow Shade Retirement
Kate and Carlie waited their turn to exit the bus and
followed the other students into the building. Mrs. Thompson and a few of the
retirement home’s staff divided up the class to escort them to their assigned
resident. A lady whose name tag read Anna
led them down a hall.
“I sure hope she likes burnt cookies.” Kate sighed.
“Maybe they won’t allow her to eat any. She could be on a
special diet or something. But hey, at least she has a card.” said Carlie.
They reached room 13 and Anna knocked on the half-open
“Ms. Cybil, these two ladies would like to spend a little
time with you, if you don’t mind a visit.” she announced in an overly cheerful,
The overhead light buzzed and flickered a bit as Anna led
the girls into the room. Kate noticed a large number of dead bugs collected in
the glass covering the lightbulbs.
Anna huffed. “The lights in here are so stubborn. I’m going
to have to call maintenance again.”
A lady sat alone in the corner near the window. The
curtains were closed and despite the lights being on, the corner somehow seemed
darker than the rest of the room.
It was hard for Kate to make out the lady’s features. But
she didn’t seem happy to have visitors. Anna gripped the curtains and pushed
them aside allowing the mid-morning sun to brighten the room.
Kate nearly gasped now that the old Lady’s face was clearly
visible. It was a mass of wrinkles, and her eyes were so dark. They were like
two sinister beady voids that glared at the nurse.
The lady spoke with a voice of gravel. “I like the curtains
“I know that, Ms. Cybil, but now these two ladies can see
your beautiful face.”
Kate had hoped that this lady wasn’t Cybil. She had hoped
she was a roommate or maybe a relative who was visiting. She wanted to hide the
basket of burnt cookies.
Cybil slowly turned toward the girls. “What are your
names?” she demanded.
“Huh?” was all Kate could answer.
child. What are your names?”
“Of course you are. And who is that?” she gestured toward
Carlie with her shaky, vein-covered hand. Carlie was on her hands and knees
looking under Cybil’s bed.
“That’s Carlie.” Kate finally noticed Carlie on the floor
and nudged her with her foot.
“Oh, hi! I’m Carlie.” She climbed to her feet and dusted
her knees. “I thought I saw a cat.”
“You did see a
cat. Her name is Bella Donna. Don’t go near her. She doesn’t like people.”
“Well, I can see you are all acquainted,” Anna said. “I’m
going to check on the other rooms and I’ll be back a little later.”
Kate tried to use her eyes to plead with her to stay.
Whether or not Anna caught the hint, she left the room, anyway.
Kate turned back to Cybil, who hadn’t stopped scowling.
“So, uh, we brought you a gift basket.”
Cybil continued to scowl.
A tinkling bell caught Kate’s attention. Bella Donna had
jumped onto the bed. Carlie tried to pet her.
“I warned you once, girl.”
Bella Donna swatted Carlie and left deep scratch marks on
the back of her hand.
“Ouch! Your cat scratched me.”
Cybil chuckled under her breath. Her crooked smile exposed
brown teeth. “Bella Donna is a pretty one, but she is dangerous to touch,” she
Carlie disappeared into the bathroom and began washing her
“Um,” Kate tried to salvage the visit. “I brought cookies.
I made them myself.”
Cybil peered into the basket. With surprising quickness,
she snatched it from Kate and placed it on the bedside table. “Thank you, girl.”
Kate found herself staring at the old woman, not knowing
what else to say. Cybil sat almost perfectly still in her wheelchair. Her long
gray hair had been pulled into a braid that nearly reached the floor. Her eyes,
Kate noticed, were a mottled gray-green. They somehow looked younger than the
rest of her.
“In my day I would accuse someone of being rude for staring
at me like that.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just daydreaming. I do that when I’m
tired. I was up late baking the cookies and I guess I didn’t realize I was
“I see you like to ramble when you are nervous, too.”
“Yeah, I do that, too.”
Carlie returned from the bathroom with a paper towel held
against her hand. “Did you see my card? I made it myself.”
“I’ll look at it later.”
Bella Donna hissed as Carlie passed the foot of the bed.
A sharp double knock started the girls. It was just Nurse
Anna returning to the room. “All right, girls. I think it’s about time for
Cybil to get ready for mealtime. I hope everyone enjoyed the visit!”
Leaving the room was a relief for Kate. It was an even
bigger relief riding the bus back to school. That was, until Carlie showed her
the card she’d made.
“You took back your card?”
“Yep. If she can’t keep her cat under control, she doesn’t
deserve my card.”
Kate felt uneasy again. She couldn’t shake the scowl on
Cybil’s face. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think she was a witch.
Kate finally made it home after
basketball practice and a quick trip to the grocery with her mom. It was past
seven o’clock and the sun had gone down a couple hours before. Fortunately, her
dad had stayed home to prepare supper. She was starved.
The house seemed extra quiet for some
reason. Kate thought maybe it was because it had been a long day and Cybil’s
weird stare still had her nervous. She sat at the table after her dad slid
plates of food in front of everyone. Chicken, macaroni and cheese, and peas. Dad’s
specialty, she thought.
“How was practice?” he
asked with a
mouthful of food.
“It was good. I hit fifteen free throws in a row at one
point, so I guess I’m getting better.”
“Wow, I guess that hoop I put up on the garage must be
coming in handy.”
The hoop was crooked and only eight feet high, but she
nodded, anyway. “Yeah, I think it has been. Thanks again for putting it up.”
Just before taking a bite, Kate’s mom asked, “How was the
retirement home visit? What was her name? Cybil?”
The light over the dining room table flickered.
All three looked up at the same time.
“Well, that’s odd.” said her dad. “I wonder if there’s
strong wind outside or something.”
“I don’t hear any wind,” said her mom. “Anyway, did she
like your cookies?”
“I don’t know. She didn’t try any while I was there.”
Kate was about to stab at her macaroni
and cheese when the light flickered again. Between flickers it seemed as if her
macaroni was moving. She leaned closer and saw that it wasn’t macaroni. It was
a pile of writhing maggots. She screamed.
The light came back on, and her dad
reassured her. “It’s all right. It’s probably a windstorm or maybe it’s
“No, it’s not the light.
It’s my food.
It was moving!”
Both her parents were looking at her
as if she’d lost her mind.
“So, where was it going?”
“I’m not joking! My macaroni
squirming like maggots or something.”
Her mom dropped her fork and pushed
her plate away. “Well, there goes my appetite.”
“It was just your imagination!”
dad tried again to reassure her. “Sometimes your mind can play tricks on you in
the dark. See, look . . .” he stabbed some macaroni and took a bite. “Mmm, I
made the three-cheese variety.”
Kate nearly gagged at the thought
tiny maggots bursting between his teeth.
“Can I just eat a little later?
homework and I’m tired.”
“Yeah, I’ll wrap it up
for you,” her
mom said. “Do you feel okay?” She reached over and felt Kate’s forehead.
“I feel fine. I’m just
tired and I
just freaked myself out a little, that’s all.”
Kate went straight to the bathroom
brush her teeth. The flavor of the food was still in her mouth, and it turned
While brushing, she thought she heard
a tinkling of a bell. It reminded her of the sound of Bella Donna’s bell. That’s
impossible, she thought. She
brushed faster so she could leave the bathroom and get to her room where she
felt the safest and most comfortable.
She spat into the sink and rinsed
mouth. When she looked back up, she saw a shadow shift on the wall.
She turned and scanned the bathroom.
Of course, she was the only one there. So, what could have made the shadow
move? Or was it just her imagination again?
Kate rushed away from the mirror and
jerked the bathroom door open. She ran through the door and immediately ran
“What on earth, Katie!” said Kate’s mother, who was rubbing her forehead.
“I’m sorry! I was just
in a hurry to
get my homework done.”
“That must be some exciting
Please be more careful.”
“I will,” Kate said as
she jogged to
She closed the door behind her and immediately slipped
under her covers. She didn’t have any homework. But it made for a good excuse
to get some privacy.
Kate stared at her ceiling, wondering what was going on.
Had Cybil traumatized her that badly to cause her to hallucinate? Or maybe she
was just really tired and making something out of nothing. Or maybe there was a
third option. But it was crazy. Maybe Cybil was
That can’t be possible, Kate told herself. Witches don’t
exist. She just looked like one and she was a grumpy old lady. Nothing more.
Kate felt herself getting sleepy. It was only nearly eight
o’ clock but it had been a long day after a late night of baking cookies. She
turned off her bedside lamp and slid further under her covers. She began to
Somewhere in the room she heard a tinkling bell. It’s
your imagination, she scolded
herself. Get a grip!
She doubled up her pillow and rolled to her side,
determined to go to sleep.
The bell tinkled again, and something jumped
on her bed.
She clenched her eyes tighter. I’m not going
to look. There’s nothing there. I’m imagining it.
She felt the weight of a paw climbing up the blanket onto
her hip. About the weight of a cat! Her eyes opened wide with panic.
But she didn’t see a cat. Instead, near the bed she saw a
shadow that was darker than the darkness of the room. It was in the shape of an
old woman in a wheelchair. Cybil.
The shadow’s eyes were two glowing gray-green points of
light. It reached out its arm and placed something on Kate’s dresser.
In a moment of pure adrenaline, Kate quickly reached over
and snapped on her bedside lamp.
The room was empty.
Nobody was in her room. No cat. No shadow. No Cybil.
But there was a basket on her dresser. Kate slowly slid out
of bed and walked over to look into the basket.
There was a note in the bottom covered in burnt cookie
It read: Thank you
for the wonderful cookies.