The witch and the paperboy

I recently offered to help friend of mine deliver some Thomson Direct books. They, in what I can only surmise as a moment of madness, took the job of posting some 3000 books through doors up and down the city in exchange for payment, and I owed them a favour, so why not?

How hard can it be right? Exactly.

Yet, it has caused me sleepless nights. I’m to deliver the books this Saturday. I shall be working during the day, the sun will hopefully be shining and it may even be fun. But, for all this, the thought of doing it is causing me some concern. And here’s why.

When I was a youngster, I had, like many youngsters, a paper-round. It wasn’t something I minded doing and the money always came in handy for sweets and a copy of the weekly 2000ad comic. But there was one part of my round that I dreaded, and that was delivering to number 12. Number 12 was situated on the top floor of a block of flats. An ominous looking building of grey stone occupied by residents who were greyer still. A home for brittle bones and paper skin, where the only brightness to be found was in the rinses that adorned skulls tight and toothless. To my mind, it was a charnel house. Even the drive that led up to it’s entrance was infected by decay; paving stones lay broken and cracked like ruined arteries and weeds had taken root draining the soil of nutrients, leaving only a dull clay like substance that clung to my boots like cancer to a lung. Even now years later, I can recall it with clarity. Very much like a bad dream, it’s image lingers, and like the films we play in sleep, it re-surfaces from time to time; an unwanted memory that haunts and teases as if to say ‘I am with you always, and on your last breath it will be me that you see.’

Suffice to say, I didn’t like the place.

And on hearing of my paper-round, my friends made my job all the worse. ”A witch lives in that building’ they would say ‘she lives at the top, in number 12’
‘She steals boys away’ another told me with delightful glee. ‘Cuts them up and feeds them to the Devil’
‘Has bones of wood and claws of steel, and her teeth are stained from sucking the marrow from bones’ I remember my mate Marcus telling me.
I believed it all. Of course I would. My friends wouldn’t lie. There was a witch living in number 12 alright.

And so, with the stories running around inside my head, I began to question whether those 2000ad comics were really worth risking my life over. But, still I continued with the deliveries. The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph; all found their way from my bag into peoples letterboxes, all posted quickly and efficiently, that is until the block of flats came into view. Then I slowed. The bag I carried began heavy, my breath laboured and as I walked that diseased path that led to the witches lair, I swear I could feel the devil watching my every footstep. Peering from behind the curtain of number 12 as I neared, whispering to the old woman by his side ‘Here he comes, get the pot ready my dear.’

The door to the building was always unlocked. It opened easily and on entering I was greeted by cold looking hallway with a staircase that led up into the heart of the building. There was no carpet or wallpaper, just cold stone and plaster. My footsteps echoed as I ascended, and I cursed my mother for buying the Dr Martins boots that I had wanted. The witch was listening no doubt. Counting my footfalls. Come closer boy, that’s it. Only a few more steps.

I reached the top and there to my left was the door marked ’12’. I stood looking at it for a while. To scared to move towards it, terrified to turn my back on it, for doing so would mean it would open and She would appear, with fingers wooden and mouth of steel. Yet, I had to do it. I had to deliver the paper. I just had to.

And so I moved gingerly towards the door. I removed the newspaper (the last newspaper) from my bag and then, very carefully as to not make a sound, lifted the letterbox.
I folded the paper and placed it on the lip of the box, then slowly, oh so slowly, pushed it through the door.

And then the door opened.

I ran. I ran like I had never ran before. I took down those stairs three, four at a time. Turning like the wind. She was at my back, I knew it, she was calling ‘Boy. Come here and play with me boy.’
But, I had youth on my side. I pushed open the entrance door and continued out onto the path. I didn’t stop running until I had reached the corner of my street. Then, and only then, did I find the courage to turn around.

The witch was nowhere to be seen.

I quit the paper-round the very next day. And never again did I walk past the grey block of flats.

But, that was then and this is now. I am no longer a boy. I know there is no such thing as witches. The Devil, I’m still not sure of. But, witches? No, defiantly not.

But, I’m sitting here with a shed load of Thompson books and I’m looking at my route. There at the end of the last road, a block of flats is situated. BOOKS TO BE DELIVERED —12 , the accompanying leaflet informs me. 12 books for 12 flats.

Flat 12.

And the witch is still waiting.

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