The following morning Ethan and Brian were enjoying breakfast in their newly blessed home. Even Brian could feel that the energy in the house had shifted leaving him with a sense of peace since Ethan’s ritual. As Brian was pouring his second cup of coffee that morning, there was a knock at the door. Ethan leaves the table to answer the door and Brian swipes an extra piece of bacon from Ethan’s plate.
“Yes.” Ethan says opening the door to see a sandy-haired young man carrying a grocery bag in one hand and a clipboard in the other. “Can I help you?”
“Albertson’s, delivery.” the young man says matter-of-factly.
“There must be some mistake,” Ethan replied “I didn’t order anything.”
Confused, the boy simply looks at the address on his invoice again and then checks the street numbers attached to the house. “Nope” the young man replies after a pause “this is the right address.”
“I’m sorry” Ethan explains “but as I’ve already told you, we didn’t order anything.”
“Hmmmm.” the young man offers looking at his invoice again “It says here that it was ordered last night for early morning delivery by….” the young man pauses and all the color seems to drain from his face and he slowly reads “Ernestine Rutenganger.”
“Ernestine Rutenganger?” Ethan asks
“I believe” the young man replied “that’s your neighbor, sir. This is a gift delivery. See here’s a card.”
The young man hands the grocery bag and an envelope over to Ethan, who notices that the delivery boy has grown much more anxious in the last few moments.
“Could…could you sign here, please?” the young man asks nervously pointing to a line on his invoice “to accept delivery.”
Ethan sets the bag down inside his door and signs the invoice. “If you could just wait here a second longer, I’ll get you a tip.” Ethan says as he notices the young man now shifting his weight from side to side growing more and more agitated with each passing second.
“No,” the young man replies inching away from the door, “No tip needed mister.”
“Have a good day.” Ethan offers as the boy quickly makes his way back to his car.
“Who was that?” Brian asks coming into the living room putting on his coat before leaving for work.
“We got a gift-delivery from our neighbor.” Ethan says pointing towards the bag on the floor with his nose and he opens the envelope that came with it.
“A delivery?” Brian asks opening the bag.
“Welcome to the neighborhood.” Ethan reads aloud off the card so Brian can hear “Sincerely, Ernestine Rutenganger”.
“Hmmmm” Brian murmurs.
“What’s in the bag?” Ethan asks.
“A gift bag” Brian explains “but the funny thing is it only has two things in it.”
“Bread and some salt.”
“Interesting” Ethan replies.
“Does that mean something to you?” Brian asks
“It’s an old Jewish custom.” Ethan replies “to give a gift of bread and salt to new home-owners. The bread is supposed to ensure that there is always enough food in the house, and the salt is for prosperity.”
“Well, we can certainly use a bit of both” Brian says as he gives Ethan a peck on the cheek “I have to get to work.”
“Don’t remind me.” Ethan says following Brian to the door.
“Oh yeah” Brian replies, “How is your job search coming?”
“Not much work for writers right now.” Ethan says “I’ve sent out some inquiries for some freelance stuff and I’m going to see whose hiring around town today.”
Later that morning, Ethan had filled out several online applications at his computer and was eager to stretch his legs. Noticing the bread and salt still by the front door where he had left it, Ethan decided to be neighborly and walk next door to thank Ms. Rutenganger for her gift. Throwing on a coat and walking out into the chilly morning, Ethan walks down his steps, out to the sidewalk, and over to his neighbors walkway.
“Hey, mister” a little girl cries out as she runs up to him dragging a jump rope behind her.
“Yes.” Ethan replies looking around to make sure the girl is talking to him.
“You’re not going in there, are you?” she asks pointing to his neighbor’s house.
“Yes, I am” Ethan replies.
“But, don’t you know who lives there?” the wide-eyed girl asks.
“Well” Ethan begins patiently, “I know her name is Ernestine Rutenganger and she’s my neighbor. She sent me a very nice gift this morning and I want to thank her.”
“But…” the little girl begins but doesn’t finish her sentence
“What’s your name?” Ethan asks
“Well, Lisa” Ethan replies “Is there something you want to tell me?”
The girl simply looks at him but doesn’t respond.
“Something about Ms. Rutenganger?” Ethan prods the girl along
The girl nods
“What is it?”
“She’s a witch!” Lisa blurts out quickly as if saying it faster would make it more believable.
“A Witch?” Ethan asks surprised “What makes you say something like that?”
“Everybody says so Lisa explains “And besides, I heard our neighbor Mrs. Taylor telling my mom she went to Ms. Rutenganger and got her fortune told.”
“Yes, and you know what” Lisa replies “She told Mrs. Taylor that her husband was cheating with a woman in his office and the witch told her how to bring him back.”
“And did he come back?” Ethan asks
“Yes, and that’s not all” Lisa explains “Everyday she goes down to the beach to feed the seagulls bread with blood baked in it. They say that the seagulls are her familiars that they help her cast her spells and that if you tell lies they’ll swoop down and peck out your eyes….”
“That’s a really interesting story” Ethan says cutting off the girl.
“Lisa Stein” an approaching mailman asks “What are you doing down here, I just saw your mother looking for you.”
“Ooops I gotta go, mister” Lisa says as she begins skipping rope back towards her house “Don’t forget what I said.”
“I wont, Lisa” Ethan replies.
“Hi” the mailman greets Ethan with a practiced smile.
“Hi” Ethan replies as he turns to go up to Ms. Rutenganger’s door.
““You can’t go up there just now, son” the mailman says placing some envelops in Ms. Rutenganger’s box and closing the door.
“I’m sorry?” Ethan asks
“The blinds are closed.” says the mailman pointing up towards the large bay window at the front of the old lady’s house.
Ethan gives a confused look.
“You must be new around here?” the mailman asks grinning to himself as if he’d revealed some great mystery.
“Yes.” Ethan replies “ I just moved in next door.”
“I thought so.” The mailman explains
“Why can’t I go up there just now?” Ethan asks
“You see,” The mailman begins “Ms. Rutenganger is something of a local legend around here. They call her the Witch of Whidbey Island. She has a reputation for being a fortune-teller.”
“Oh” Ethan replies.
“Don't get me wrong, she's a nice old lady," he continues “but I think its a bunch of marlaky. Old woman gets lonely with no family....she convinces people she can tell fortunes or cast spells so she can get some company. That's all it is.”
“I see” Ethan replies
“Anyway, whenever those blinds are closed,” the mailman explains “it means she’s with someone. Doing her thing…whatever that is... doesn’t want to be disturbed.”
“Oh, well I wouldn’t want to disturb her when she’s working.”
“Ok” the mailman nods in reply having educated this newcomer “I better get back to my route, you have a good day now.”
As a writer, Ethan understood that inspiration could come at any time and so he had become accustomed to keeping a small notebook and pen on him at all times which he now takes out of his pocket and jots down a quick note.
“Dear Ms. Rutenganger,
Thanks for the lovely gift. I stopped by to see you but was given to understand not to call on you when your blinds are closed. If you’d accept an invitation for dinner soon, my husband and I would love to have you over.”
Walking up his neighbors steps, Ethan folds the note in half and then gently opens the front door to wedge the note in the jam. For a moment he could hear two muffled voices. Then one clearly drowns out the other
“I’ve told you for the last time. I will not help you bewitch that man. He doesn’t share your…well your tastes…it would be WRONG. Now get!
Not wanting to get caught eavesdropping by Ms. Rutenganger’s client, Ethan hurried down the steps and back to his own home.