The dust-laden Jeep screeched to a halt. Its enormous tires splattering Earth across the asphalt as it careened into the parking space. The commotion caused the professor to spin around like a graying at the temples tornado. The bass of the unintelligible music blasting loud enough to shake the pavement beneath it. A lithe woman bounded out of the open-air vehicle as it rocked to a stop. Her Saucony trail shoes saturated with soil the color of which nearly matched her auburn hair. The college-aged woman seemed to float above the ground as she soared towards the pizza joint.
“Just be a minute.” Paulson performing a pirouette move of her own directed her shout towards the extraordinarily tall woman driving the vehicle. Zanetta shook her head in a violent yes motion in perfect sync with the overpowering electronic music, her white blond hair obscuring her liquid blue eyes from the startled gentlemen.
The professor dressed in a university-issued navy blue and gold golf shirt let his eyeballs linger on her endless suntanned legs. He spun back around, his too long for his age dark hair a bit unkempt due to the unanticipated sharp movements. Then restarted his excursion of picking up dinner for his family. He was only a few steps behind Paulson. Her hair brushed her bronze shoulders, the freckled skin exposed underneath a black tank top as she entered Miroballi’s Chicago-Style Pizza.
He opened the door, stuffed his keys into the pocket of his khaki cargo shorts and walked in a second or two after she did. The aroma of baking dough came in a wave as if rushing to exit the space. The crackle of something being deep-fried overtook the sound of the counter clerk shouting to someone in the kitchen.
The tiny carry-out place was overcrowded with students, faculty, and residents as was the norm on a winsome Friday evening in the high desert of Arizona. With spring break on the horizon, the crowd was double a typical night in the popular establishment.
Paulson took her place in line behind several patrons. The long looping curls of her red hair covering one eye, the other darting about taking a mental inventory of the scene. She turned up the white trim on her green athletic shorts to examine a deep scratch on her right leg. She was cognizant of the occupants of the tiny space scrutinizing her magnetic presence.
The majority of locals accepted the myth of the sorority of witches that occupied the hills. Masquerading as students by day and engaging in the supernatural at night. The red dust on her shoes coupled with the abrasion put the believers on high-alert. Paulson could smell the sweat emanating from every pore of their bodies as their nervousness escalated to exponential heights.
The professor stood behind her trying to appear ordinary. He was more accustomed to being in the company of a witch than most and had learned to fight the reflex as staring too long could result in punishment or death.
Paulson took a few steps out of line, opened the cooler along the wall, and grabbed a can of Modelo popping it open. The sound of the carbonation discharging broke the silence that had overtaken the restaurant. The music outside invaded the space adding to the unexpected unpleasantness that engulfed the enterprise.
She took a short pull licking the excess from her lips cracked from the dry high desert air. The counter clerk looked up and made eye contact. Paulson raised the container above her head with her right hand in a silent acknowledgment of the impending transaction.
A middle-aged woman with two small children was seated on a bench, her back to the glass front wall of the retail space. She seized the opportunity to lock eyes with the clerk, motioning at Paulson, a wordless indication of her desire to get the witch away from her brood. The clerk scrunched her potato-shaped face in a sign of incomprehension.
“Three extra-large pizzas?” asked the woman her dark ponytail bobbing up-and-down in sync with her flabby jowls as she looked up from the register. The witch approached the counter and produced a debit card out from under the strap of her tank top.
“Don’t forget the beer,” Paulson replicated her earlier gesture as she handed the payment to the woman with her free hand.
“It’ll be ten or fifteen minutes, we’re overrun tonight.”
“Holy shit,” said a tall broad-shouldered college student leaning against the wall in the far corner of the area. His response aimed at the postponement of the witch’s order – not his own. He recoiled as Paulson cocked her head a touch in his direction. His exhale of relief when she removed her gaze without speaking obvious to everyone in the room, including Paulson. The woman with the children glared wide-eyed at the clerk who remained oblivious to near panic of the others. A few other naïve customers failed to grasp the imminent danger of the circumstances looked on perplexed by the attention the seemingly innocuous woman was garnering. The professor paid for his order and joined the rest of the people that comprehended the situation in the excruciating passage of time. He positioned himself as near the door as he could without drawing unwanted attention in preparation for a hasty exit.
The heat seemed more intense, the air thicker, any noise more acute in anticipation of looming disaster. The professor tried to be discreet in contemplating an escape glanced over his shoulder at the towering witch in the Jeep. She stood on the seat hips swaying in one direction, arms stretched high above her head in the opposite, a toned-belly uncovered as a white tank top rode up above tattered jean shorts. He returned to regard his cell phone, pretending to check email, considering whether an unexpected departure would alarm the witches.
An undersized Hispanic gentleman emerged from the kitchen carrying three oversized boxes in far less than the stated time. Relief washed over the establishment as he waited for Paulson to approach. It appeared they would escape unscathed. Paulson drained her beer for another unbearable moment, then walked up to the front grabbing the pizzas from the man. He retreated into the kitchen screaming something in Spanish.
She was still facing the kitchen when the sound of her ginger mane metamorphosing into live snakes shattered the sense of relief that had washed over the crowd. The professor recognizing the meaning, bolted out the door while Paulson transformed herself into Medusa. He connected with the bar of the glass door flinging it open deep and wide. A pudgy college student engrossed in conversation with a female student didn’t notice the sudden movement. His right hand stretched above his head supporting him as he leaned against the exit. He screamed as two of his fingers were pinched in the hinge severing them just above the knuckle. The amputated digits hit the ground with a squishy thud wetting his sandals with the blood. The smell of the life sustaining substance coupling with the odor of the surfacing serpents altered the appetizing air into something nausea inducing.
A few steps outside, the professor retraced his movements to reenter the take out shop. He grabbed the arm of the woman sitting with her offspring and yanked her out the door. She repeated the act with her children forming a human chain of escapees.
The others terrified to the point of paralysis were spellbound by the activity before them. The coltish young woman’s face twisted into something hideous. Her tanned skin converted into a ghoulish pasty white. Once beautiful hair, now a den of snakes. They twisted themselves in every direction, springing out from her skull, slime dripping from their limbless bodies. The unmistakable buzz resonating in the eardrums of the unlucky inhabitants.
She whirled in an effort to hit the runaways with Medusa, but they were a step ahead. Instead, the screaming from the door stopped as the overweight man met Paulson’s look. His chunky frame calcified. The witch worked her way from the front door to the back to ensure no one else made it outside. One-by-one they developed into stone statues of their former selves. The athlete lunged at Paulson, his body parallel to the floor. A slight movement of her neck ended the ridiculous attempt at salvation. His body smashed to the floor with a thunderous crash. She hurdled the stone man as his momentum carried him past. A few tried to avoid their fate by focusing the heads away from Paulson, but she held a remarkable enchantment over them as they were incapable of maintaining that stance for more than a few seconds.
With the waiting area resembling a museum of twenty-first-century human sculptures, Paulson directed her wrath on the kitchen staff.
The pony-tailed order taker stood in the doorway to the kitchen. It was unclear if she was trying to protect the occupants as fear overtook her and she rotated her body in the direction of the cooking area.
“Hey,” yelled Paulson.
For a reason only the witch could grasp, she swiveled her head back towards Paulson. The solidification of her form began at her feet and worked its way up. Although the pain was intense, as with the other victims, not a groan nor moan emanated from her. Her substantial midsection once a shaking glob of superfluous skin became as smooth as a well-weathered rock. The crunch of soft flesh converting to bedrock alerted the kitchen workers that the witch was on the move. Paulson walked around the still changing woman and entered the smaller room.
The sound of kitchen utensils and cookware slamming to the floor cascaded through the space. Paulson scanned the scene, the area was overstuffed with opened ingredient boxes making the narrow aisle between the prep area and ovens difficult to navigate. She noted the back door was secured by a fire alarm and initiated a search for the kitchen staff. She peeked under the stainless steel workspace and found nothing. Convinced they’d disabled the alarm and escaped, she continued towards the rear exit. The plastic flaps protecting the walk-in freezer on the far right of the room shifted triggering Paulson’s turn in that direction. A face attempting to steal a look embarked on the conversion process. The witch crossed the galley and stood before the freezer. She flung the door open and saw the two remaining employees cowering in opposite corners attempting to conceal themselves behind cases of food. Two quick turns of her head and a steady glare extinguished their existence. She reveled in the reverberations of their bodies hardening.
Outside, the professor and family benefited from the cooks misfortune. They hadn’t bothered to try to get into a vehicle. The process was much too deliberate to be a viable getaway method. Zanetta had stopped dancing to take in the carnage. Her chin resting on her arms, which were folded neatly on the top rail of the off-road vehicle. She barely noticed the clan as they scampered by, too enthralled at the ongoing massacre to take off in pursuit. The group ducked around the edge of the strip mall doubled-back down the alley past the receiving area. The professor was unaware that only a thin metal door and a foolish worker separated them from Paulson. They darted through some brush that divided the retail space from an industrial park filled with warehouses, factories, and vacant buildings. The professor prayed the countless concealment options would protect them from the witches’ wrath.
Paulson exited the pizza joint into the declining evening light appearing unchanged from the form she entered with, the three pizza boxes resting on top of her right hand. She tossed them into the back of the Rubicon. Reached up to wipe some avocado-colored slop from her brow then shook it off her hand onto the ground and leaped back into the vehicle.
Zanetta dropped herself into the driver’s seat bouncing a few inches off the leather before settling in and starting the engine.
“A couple of them got away,” she told Paulson.
“Wanna go after them?”
“No, I know the professor. He taught one of my classes. We can send some of the pledges to experiment on him.”
“That’ll be torturous.” Zanetta smiled, turned the music back on, inched up the volume and pulled out onto the road in the direction of the hills.
“He’ll give up the others.”
In a few minutes, the Jeep was back on the highway traveling at an outrageous speed.
“Why’d you kill them?” Zanetta barked over the noise.
“I like the crunching sound.” Paulson shrugged with a chilling indifference.
Zanetta, tresses flowing in the wind, shuddered. She took a sharp left off the highway onto an indiscernible dirt path, steering towards the remote lair of the tribe.
Buz Hampton has written countless marketing brochures, email promos, blog posts, and other stuff to put you to sleep. He is now creating fiction that he expects will achieve the same result. If you’re looking for horror, sci-fi or action with a touch of the whimsy, you’re in the right place. He resides in the southwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and dog. The latter of which is the probable source of his twisted style of prose.