The Matamoras Community Festival was on a Thursday that year. It
would have been on Wednesday, but a freak thunderstorm forced its
postponement. Brandise Fields got too soggy, and the folding tables and
tents would have sunk in the ground. Mayor Anderson announced it during
an emergency press conference that aired on news channel 17. This
weather anomaly was tantamount to the floods in South America. Dozens
of desserts were worthless. My mom's own apple cobbler, which she said
must be eaten within twenty-four hours of coming out of the oven, was
ruined. We ate it after the press conference. My mom was almost in
"How could this be happening?" she said. "This is the first time in
twenty-six years that the festival's been postponed."
"It's only been moved one day," I said. I turned to the half-finished
apple cobbler sitting on the oak coffee table and sliced myself another
"That's not the point. It's a break in tradition. The festival is
supposed to be held on the last Wednesday of June. It's written in the
Matamoras Community Constitution, for God's sake!" My mom was fuming as
she collected the dirty plates that were resting all around our living
room. My brother's plate was under the curve of the rocking chair, and
my dad's was balanced on the arm of the couch.
"Just calm down, Ellen," my dad said. "Things like this happen. We
don't know why, but we have to deal with them."
"I suppose, Jimmy." My mom sighed. I rolled my eyes, and my brother
"Maybe Zelda made it rain," Adam said, still laughing. My mom slowly
turned to him. Her eyes were wider than humanly possible.
"I didn't even think about that. I wouldn't put it past her. In fact,
I'm almost sure she's responsible." My mom sat on the couch and began
to wring her dishtowel. "On Monday, I saw Zelda buying six cloves of
garlic and a jar of pigs' feet at Thompson's General Store. She
probably used them in some voodoo black magic spell to make it
"You can't be serious, mom. That's ridiculous," I said. I turned to my
dad, hoping he would join me in dismissing mom's crazy idea. He simply
read his newspaper.
"Robert, honey, this woman is capable of anything," she said. "You
She was obviously referring to Mr. Gibson's train incident. It was a
town legend. It happened four years prior, but people still talked
about it then. Adam brought it up that night before bed.
"Tell me the story, Robert," Adam begged. He looked down from the top
bunk. I couldn't see his face in the dark, so I fished under my pillow
for my flashlight and shined it in his direction.
"You know the story already. I've told it to you a million
"I know, but I want to hear it again. I'm coming down." Adam climbed
down the mini-ladder and stepped onto my bunk. He didn't let his feet
touch the floor. I could tell he was scared.
"Okay, but you may get freaked out," I whispered. Thunder roared
through the night sky as I said these words, making them all the more
dramatic. Adam shuddered and grabbed my blue-and-green checkered
"I'm not scared," he said. "Just tell it."
"Well, four years ago, on a stormy night just like tonight, Mr. Gibson
was driving home from Claire's Hardware in his old blue pick-up. When
he got to the railroad crossing, he went up too far. His muddy tires
got stuck in the tracks, and a huge freight train was coming from the
I pointed my finger towards the opposite wall, as if the train was
actually in our bedroom. Adam looked over, probably expecting to see
something. At that moment, the lightning outside illuminated the entire
room for an instant. Adam drew my blanket up to his chin.
"Hurry up and finish," he whimpered.
"Mr. Gibson kept pumping the gas, but his truck wouldn't move.
Suddenly, he saw a woman in a black robe trudging towards him through
the rain. It was Zelda. Mr. Gibson claims that Zelda stood a few feet
in front of his truck, raised her arms, and shouted something he
couldn't make out. A second later, his truck began to move and got
clear of the tracks with only a minute to spare."
"So Zelda used her magic to save Mr. Gibson?" Adam was shaking.
"That's what he says." I grabbed my blanket from his hands, leaving
him exposed to the thunder and the darkness. "Now go up to your bed. We
have to get up early tomorrow for the festival. Hopefully the rain will
"What if Zelda doesn't want it to stop?" he asked.
"You're an idiot. Go to bed."
The next morning, I woke up to the smell of a freshly baked apple
cobbler. Turning to the window, I discovered that the storm had indeed
stopped. The sky was a sea of sapphire interspersed with small clusters
of cotton-white clouds. The dew resting on the grass glistened like
tiny diamonds in the sun. I could even see pick-up trucks and trailers
heading towards Brandise Fields. The Matamoras Community Festival was
"What's for breakfast, mom?" I asked, rubbing the night's sleep from
my eyes. The kitchen was alive with ringing oven timers, whistling
kettles, and news channel 17 festival bulletins.
"All festival-goers taking Milner Road to Brandise Fields are being
asked to park in the south field designated Blue One. Blue Two is
reserved for all trailers&;#8230;" The reporter was coming to us
live from the festival grounds. Behind her, Mrs. Danbury's Cookies and
Cakes tent was being erected.
"I'm hitting that stand first," Adam said, pouring Corn Flakes into a
"You're both going to have to finish breakfast fast," my mom said over
the blender's churn. "You have to deliver this bag of potatoes to Mrs.
Gibson. She needs them to make another batch of her homemade
"No, mom. I'm not going." Adam looked as scared as he did the night
before. It was then that I realized that we would be passing Zelda's
house on our way to the Gibsons' house.
"Sure, we'll go," I said. "Get dressed, Adam."
Twenty minutes later, Adam and I were on our way. I rode my jet black
Schwinn with the sack of potatoes tied to the front. Adam trailed in
his cranberry red bicycle with a baseball card ticking between the
spokes. We pedaled down Wembly Lane beside a caravan of trailers. One
was carrying the pony that would be available to ride for a dollar. The
driver honked his horn at us, and we waved.
"Look. I'm riding with no hands," Adam said. He raised his arms in the
air as if he was carrying invisible trays. It reminded me of this
waiter who served us at Tuskadoo's Fun Palace a while back. He brought
us our food while riding a unicycle. He was good, but he hit a snag in
the carpet and dropped all our food.
"Put your hands down before you fall," I yelled. I turned onto Hayden
Road, and as I cleared the long row of hedges, I came into full view of
Zelda's house. When I stopped my bicycle short, the sack of potatoes
tied to the front came loose and fell to the dirt road. Potatoes
spilled everywhere, rolling down to the roadside ditch and implanting
themselves in the slimy mud left by the rain.
"At least I didn't drop the potatoes," Adam said, defending his
no-hands bicycle-riding know-how. However, his tiny triumph was
short-lived when he realized who was standing not more than ten feet
away. "It's Zelda."
I looked up from the minefield of potatoes and saw Zelda standing on
her old, termite-ridden front porch. She was wearing a long buttoned
black robe that covered her entire body. She even had her hood up, and
little wisps of silver hair peeked out from underneath. This was
another reason why people talked about Zelda. She was the only person
in town who would bundle up on hot summer days. As I contemplated this,
she began to walk toward us.
"Boys," she said in a raspy voice, "I see you've had a bit of an
accident. Perhaps I can help."
Adam and I nodded. She curled her finger in the "follow me" fashion,
and we had no choice but to oblige. It was as if she had hypnotized us
with her stare. We trailed behind her, not saying a word. When she
opened her front door, I realized that we would be entering Zelda's
"Don't worry, boys. I'll fix everything," she said. Behind us, the
front door clicked shut.
The living room was old and dusty, and upholstery covered the sofa and
two armchairs. The fireplace was empty. There were no logs, no pokers,
not even soot on the base. It probably hadn't been used in years. The
mantel was adorned with two candelabras and a ceramic urn, all of which
were connected with tiny bridges of cobwebs. The rug was stiff under my
feet, and the pattern was faded to a smoky gray. It reminded me of the
haunted house I saw featured on Ghost Stories: The Series.
"It's dark in here," Adam whispered. I nodded. It was hard to believe
that it was only 11:00 am outside.
"Wait here. I'll get you what you need." Zelda disappeared behind a
white sheet that was hanging from a doorframe.
"We should run, Robert. If she could make it rain, then she could kill
us." Adam was looking around nervously. "I bet that urn up there is
filled with crunched-up bones of dead children. What if I'm
"Well then we definitely have to stay," I said. I tried to act cool,
but I was just as nervous as Adam. I'd not been taking Zelda's supposed
powers seriously. Adam had. It would only be fitting that she prove her
might by ripping my heart from my chest with the flick of her
"Come on." Adam headed towards the door.
"Where are you going?" Zelda said as the white sheet flew open. "I
haven't given this to you yet." She held out a bag.
"It's a dead cat," Adam whispered. We slowly walked towards her and
examined the bag. Since I was older, I felt it was my duty to grab the
"Oh. It's potatoes," I said as I felt them rolling around through the
"Now you can deliver them without fail." Zelda smiled.
"Thanks," we said in unison and bolted to the door.
A few hours after our delivery, we got in the backseat of our car and
headed towards the festival.
"How'd things go today on your little errand?" my mom asked.
"Good," Adam said.
"Yeah," I agreed. We had decided not to tell anyone about our being in
Zelda's house. We would be branded for life if that got out. We were
going to forget about her and enjoy the festival.
The Matamoras Community Festival was the pride of our small
Pennsylvania town. Dozens of people got together on these grassy fields
to play games, eat desserts, and just be friendly towards each other.
Even Mr. Furrow and Mr. Jasper, who fought for a whole three months
over Mr. Jasper's apple tree extending over his gate by four feet,
could be found drinking together in Leroy's Tap tent. My dad headed
there first to try out Leroy's latest brews. Keeping his word, Adam ran
towards Mrs. Danbury's Cookies and Cakes tent. My mom brought her
cobbler to a tent named An Apple A Day. She was running it with Mrs.
Olsen, who was famous for her apple cinnamon tarts. I walked towards
the dart-throwing booth.
"If you pop three red balloons, you get a prize," the man said,
pointing to a row of smiling teddy bears.
As I propped back my arm to throw the first dart, I overheard the man
talking to a woman about a subject that had occupied my mind for the
past two days: Zelda.
"Rumor has it that Zelda used her magic to make it rain yesterday," he
"I heard that she asked Satan during a trance," the woman replied.
"Someone told me that she threw dead cats into her fireplace while she
was doing this. Her neighbors smelled it in the smoke."
I knew that wasn't true because her fireplace was spotless when we
visited earlier. And Zelda didn't have dead cats lying around. I
decided to see what everyone else was saying about her.
"Zelda spit on Brandise Fields, and it started raining," one girl
"She blackmailed Mother Nature," another said.
"I heard she used garlic and pigs' feet to make it rain," a friend
told me. That was straight from my mom's lips. I tracked her down at
Mrs. Gibson's You Say Potato tent.
"What have you been saying, mom?" I asked her as she was picking on
the homemade fries.
"Zelda! You're telling people that Zelda started the rain yesterday.
Well, she didn't. She's not that bad of a person," I said. All eyes
were on me.
"Don't be so sure," my mom said. "She'll find some way to ruin this
I looked at Adam, who was putting mustard on his hot dog. I knew I had
to tell everyone where we were that afternoon.
"Well, Adam and I were at Zelda's house today. And when we dropped the
sack of potatoes, she gave us new ones. You're all eating Zelda's
potatoes." I wanted them to see how nice Zelda was for providing Mrs.
Gibson with potatoes, but the crowd reacted in another way I didn't
"She's probably poisoned us," Mrs. Gibson said. She dropped the carton
of fries she was holding. Everyone did the same. Fries, hash browns,
and other potato products fell to the ground.
"I knew she'd ruin this festival," my mom said again. She slapped
Adam's hand, causing his hash brown to fall. Kids poked at the fries
still lying in the aluminum trays and kicked at the ones on the
"It's over! My tent is ruined!" Mrs. Gibson began to sob. "That old
I looked around at the ensuing chaos. My mom dumped the unsold fries
into a Rubbermaid garbage can, while Mrs. Gibson tore down the sign
above her tent. There was no way of telling which potatoes were used to
make which foods, so everyone began to feel sick. One girl threw up
behind Ruby Sue's Rings And Things tent. Little boys milled around and
laughed at the mess. Potatoes and puke littered that small section of
"What were you two doing in that crazy woman's house?" my mom asked.
She grabbed Adam and me by our shoulders. "Look what she did here.
Imagine what she could've done to you. That woman is a demon! First the
rain, and now this! She succeeded in wrecking this festival!"
"This festival is wrecked," I thought, "but it's not Zelda's
That night, Adam and I told our mom we were riding our bikes down to
the creek to collect salamanders, but we were actually going to Zelda's
house. I shined my flashlight on her front porch. It was trashed with
broken eggshells and small pebbles. Her door was covered with either
shaving cream or whip cream. I didn't want to go close to figure out
which one. She'd probably think I was there to further destroy her
"They did a real number on her house," Adam said.
"I know. It's not fair."
"She didn't poison those people. She's not mean. She helped Mr. Gibson
on those train tracks that night." Adam kicked the dirt around his
I nudged him and pointed his attention to the side of Zelda's house.
Zelda was there wearing the same black robe she'd been wearing that
morning. She looked like a shadow gliding across the yard. The wind
blew harder, causing the hood to fall to her neck. It revealed a
cascade of silver hair that gleamed in the moonlight. She bent over and
placed something on the ground. Six or seven purring cats trotted over
to her, and we could hear the sound of them lapping up milk.