Mother used to tell me to never judge a book by its cover, so when everyone called Old Man Sam a witch, I knew better than to jump to conclusions. Just because someone runs through the neighborhood covered in blood every Tuesday doesn’t mean there’s not a good reason behind it.
I reckon I was about seven, when I finally worked up the courage to walk up to his front door and knock. As it turns out his house was quite rotten, and my knuckles ended up breaking straight through the eroded wood. I remember feeling bad about punching a hole in his property and even worse when I did it a second and third time, but Father always told me when someone doesn’t just respond, you gotta be persistent.
Minutes turned to hours and hours turned into the cold wind of night, but finally, Old Man Sam opened the door and asked why I was there. I told him I wanted to know why people called him a witch. To that, he simply laughed and explained that it was a misunderstanding and that if I wanted the answer to come back tomorrow.
That night, Mother made her famous beef and goo stew. I remember because the reason it was so famous was that no one ever let it pass through their body the natural way, and I spent all night over the toilet.
The next day, I returned to Old Man Sam, dressed in my fancy jeans and collared shirt to make a good second impression. Grandmother often whispered from her bed that since most people don’t remember you the first time they meet you it was really the second impression that mattered, but mother told me that I shouldn’t listen to a woman who’s got more cobwebs that braincells bouncing around in her head. As such, I decided to compromise and left my shoes untied and my hair a mess, and when I knocked on the door, Old Man Sam pulled it open with such gusto I thought he was expecting a pizza. Sadly, he was just expecting me, which was unfortunate because I could’ve really used a pizza after ejecting half my belly into the toilet.
That day, Old Man Sam was in a much better mood and performed such a grandiose bow that his forehead almost slammed into the floor, and after he was done, he offered to take my coat.
I told him I was fine, and he led me down to his basement. Grandfather would on occasion tell me if I didn’t have nice to say to the elderly, I shouldn’t say anything at all, so I said didn’t say anything as I passed by piles of discard skin and trash, no matter how much it stunk. When we finally got to the bottom of his cellar, there wasn’t much to see, just a few tables of food, a couple tanks with floating people inside, and a dozen or so boxes of clothes and books.
Old Man Sam told me to wait there while he searched through the boxes, and after a few minutes, he pulled out a weird robotic frisbee. He handed it to me and said some stuff I didn’t understand. Still, I did not let him know I didn’t know and said I know whenever I didn’t know. Eventually, he stopped talking and offered me some food. I left not too long after that with a few toys he let me keep and a promise to return the next day.
That night, when I told my parents where I was, they were not happy I was spending time with Old Man Sam, and the next day, they brought me to Agent H. I don’t remember a lot of Agent H., but I do remember he wore sunglasses even when inside, and the one time he took them off, when we were alone, his eyes were blacker than the lenses. It was like there was nothing on the inside of him, that his soul had been sucked from him, and all that remained was darkness. Still, it would have been rude to mention it, and when he asked me about Old Man Sam, I told him everything I knew. This seemed to please him, and he told me I was a good boy.
The next day, I went over to Old Man Sam’s house and found his place surrounded by vans and camera people. I attempted to get closer, but one of the neighbors told me to go back home. I attempted to go back to Old Man Sam’s house several times that day, but every time, someone would stop me whether it was the men in blue, one of my parents, or Agent H. I thought the people would get bored of Old Man Sam eventually, but they stayed long into the night.
During all of this, I watched from my bedroom, and at one moment, I thought I saw Old Man Sam climbing across his roof, although this time he wasn’t wearing his skin. He was only there for a moment, and sadly, that would be the last time I saw him. Later into the night, when Agent H. was in my room to take the toys Old Man Sam gave me, I thought I saw a larger version of the robotic frisbee hovering over his house, but Agent H. just told me those metal disks were called helicopters.
After that, the night went quiet, and when morning came, the camera men and other people surrounding his house were gone. I attempted to search for Old Man Sam inside the rotting house where we’d spent so many hours, but everything that used to be there was gone, even the stuff in the basement. For how long I wandered his house, I don’t quite remember, but when Agent H. found me, he took me home and told me never to return to Old Man Sam’s house. He said a few more things and waved goodbye. I put on a happy face and waved back, but deep in my heart, I wished I could do the same to Old Man Sam. Although brief, our time together was special to me, and I’ll never forget him, the witch of 51st Ave.