I started writing this over a year ago. I kept meaning to come back to it, to finish it. Finally, I decided that excuses aren’t allowed. So, here is the first half to a Bros. Grimm story that I’ve rewritten. The original is called Jorinda and Jorindel. Mine…I have no clue. Right now, I’m just calling it the Bros. Grimm Rewrite. P.S…characters last names will probably be changed, poor things.
Part 2 will be early next week.
At the far northern corner of a lower middle class neighborhood in a typical Midwest town was a dilapidated, gray brick two-story house, which had stood on its lot since before the rest of the neighborhood was erected in the early 1920’s. This particular home was said to be inhabited by a witch, a woman who, like her house, was gray and of indeterminate age but some say she was the original owner, which would make her well over 100. Of course, no one truly believes that real witches exist anymore, not in these modern times. They were only flights of fancy, left over from the dark aged days of fairy tales. Although, there are many stories dating back to when our parents were our ages, they swear the woman shape-shifted, transforming herself into animals or birds, flying high above the homes or slinking about the streets, always watching, preying. It couldn’t be proven this was the truth (despite the fact that it was). But, much like any town, home to an eccentric old woman, these types of stories were sure to surround her.
The house belonged to its yard, or maybe it was vice versa but it was completely overgrown and over-run with ancient shrubs and trees, casting strange shadows and blocking out light. They hid the house like an overprotective mother smothering her infant. The unkempt garden, perhaps grand in its day (if there ever was such thing), was camp to an army of mutant weeds, sentries standing seemingly at attention, ready to protect and serve. The grass, crabby and angry, grew like serpents poised to lash out and strike any intruders. The whole picture was ominous and foreboding, a contrast to the modest yet warm and inviting streets around it.
The cookie cutter homes were all set “just so” from the street, as planned by the areas early architect. The lawns all identically manicured, this season by a neighborhood kid home from college, a young entrepreneur gaining his start by monopolizing the areas landscaping, outbidding most of the seasoned professionals. He bought his own LLC and a used white tractor that he found on Craigslist. He hooked it up to his ancient Jeep, and was able to haul his used tractor mower and his used push mower, also purchased from Craigslist for next to nothing. He painted, in bold black letters, RYAN JORINDEL LAWNCARE, LLC along the side of the white tractor. His only employee was his bookkeeper, appointment maker and longtime girlfriend, Jori Ann. She was as proud of him as he was of himself.
The ranch homes all boasted large picture windows with center entrances, the only difference between one home and the next was the color of the brick and the color of the minivan in the drive. The colonials looked very much like their short cousins, and their differences were the same, as well. 8:30 am created a bit of traffic on this otherwise quiet street, as did 5:30pm. 6pm the yards were quiet, the commotion brought indoors to the kitchen table and then released again into the yards at dusk, where the children played until the street lamps came back on and mothers called their children in for their baths.
Even on the most gloriously beautiful summers day, when the sky was bursting with blues and the rest of the neighborhood street was alive with gossip and laughter, the house stood dark, mysterious and shadowy, as though sun and laughter never reached that far northern corner of the neighborhood.
No one ever went near the house. It appeared to outsiders that the old woman never had visitors nor did she ever leave. “A shut-in”, they all called her. In fact, she was very rarely sighted, to the point that many wondered if she was even alive anymore but then, just when the wondering reached a high, a young man would glance from across the street, quite by accident, probably watching their own feet and not their surroundings. They’d look up suddenly, as if they realized where they were, only to meet a pair of eyes staring from one of the high windows. The person, and it was always male, claimed they felt frozen, stiff, unable to move. The boys feet becoming one with the cement of the sidewalk, until they saw the old woman in the high window, her moving her mouth rapidly, looking as though she were chanting. Then once her mouth stopped moving and she went back to staring out the window, down at them, they would swear to everyone who would listen that was when they became free of their statue-like stance. It was a laughable tale. At first. But the community recognized the frequency of the happenings and the similarity of the told stories. It didn’t necessarily surprise anyone either, considering that wasn’t the only mystery surrounding this grey, dilapidated house and the old woman inside. Strange occurrences weren’t at all native to this particular small Midwestern town but there were stories very similar coming in from other neighboring areas, claiming to have missing young women. Investigations were constantly leading to dead ends. “Without a trace” and “Closed” stamped on files tucked neatly away in special boxes of files holding all too similar cases. The reality was, investigations were stopped short due to superstitions outweighing law. There were so many throughout the years that newcomers stopped looking to buy in and around the area. It was jinxed, outsiders thought. Cursed. Ironically, with every missing woman, the cat population in the vacant lot next door to the dilapidated house seemed to grow. Speculation and gossip always pointed to the woman who was thought to be, perhaps, a witch.
The west side of the street where the house and its inhabitant resides seemed to end before anyone ever set foot at its border. The stop sign might as well be at the edge of the vacant field, a lot next to this house that was never developed. No one crossed the invisible barrier. Anyone venturing down to the end of the neighborhood quickly crossed the street at the vacant lot, not before their peripheral caught glimpses of all the cats. So many feral cats of different breeds lived on the properties, their numbers too great to count and no one ever did anything about it because there was not a single serviceman, animal control worker or policeman that wanted to go close to the house and certainly not in the Cat Yard, as it had come, in more recent years, to be called.
Ryan Jorigel was somewhat of a narcissistic idealist. He believed that everyone had the right to his service, thus allowing them to enjoy a lovely yard. He also believed that all the rumors surrounding the house and the old woman were a bunch of hogwash, she was probably just an old spinster with no relatives left, living the end of her lonely life here at the end of the street, surrounded by all her cats. That was the story he believed and the one his mind was sticking to as he made up that very mind to go to her house and ask her if she would like him to do her landscaping. He discussed his plan with Jori who, with great trepidation, agreed to go with him to pay a visit to the woman the next day.
Ryan and Jori had been together, pretty much since infancy. They lived two doors down from each other, their parents were best friends, their sisters were best friends and they were best friends. It was very much that way in their neighborhood, very incestuous. Families becoming bigger families. High school sweethearts marrying to produce more high school sweethearts. A close knit community, one that no one was in a big hurry to ever leave. Most kids who went off to college, came home, got a job, bought a house a few doors or streets over from their parents and most lived happily ever after.
That was the exact plan for Ryan and Jori. She attended the local community college where she was getting her degree in sonography. She hoped to work at her OB-Gyn office, which belonged to her father and uncle, doing ultrasounds on pregnant women. She loved the idea of seeing babies while they are still in their mothers’ womb. Ryan was at U of M where he was majoring in business and then he planned on going to law school at Wayne State, just like his father. And just like his father, he would secure partnership at his great-grandfathers law firm. His path was determined for him, imprinted in his genes from generations ago.
Ryan and Jori got engaged the first week that summer break began, Ryan figured there was no reason to prolong the inevitable. Ryan proposed to her at the little Italian restaurant they had their first “real” date, the date that determined they liked each other far more than just as friends, back when they were freshman in high school. High school earned them titles such as: cutest couple, homecoming king and queen and prom royalty also, most likely to get married right out of high school, although, that was so common in their community that it wasn’t even an honor. Ryan headed the student council and the football team. She, the cheerleaders and yearbook. They were the “it” couple, the ones to be envied and emulated. They always seemed to have it all, and constantly. They were both beautiful, smart and had paths they were following. Together.
They loved each other, of that fact there was no doubt. They were meant to be together, forever. Everyone who met them knew that. It was obvious from the way they looked at each other to the way they finished each others sentences. A real love story, right there in Midwest suburbia.
Ryan and Jori went for coffee and bagels at the local diner before venturing over to the neighborhood witch’s house. They spoke in hushed tones, in case of eavesdropper, plotting what they would say and do when the old woman came to the door, if she came to the door. It would shock the many in the community if they knew what Ryan and Jori were up to. People were always so afraid of her that they were even scared to give her a nickname, they way they called the empty lot the Cat Yard.
Jori was still hesitant. She had kept Ryan up late into the night, worrying about the ‘what ifs’ of the rumors. One of her best friends disappeared and ended up tucked away as a file. She vanished in front of her boyfriend, one evening when they drunkenly stumbled too close to the house. He stood, frozen in his spot and she literally vanished. “Without a trace” was fitting for these files, it was quite exactly the way it happened.
Walking hand in hand on the west side of the street, heading to the northern corner, their pace slowed as they approached that invisible line. The one that divided the cat lot from the house. Jori all but stopped walking, her hand moist in his. He stopped and turned to her, holding both her small hands within his own.
“It’ll be fine, Jori. This isn’t a fairytale, nothing bad is going to happen. We are simply asking her if she’d like me to do her landscaping. If she says yes, great. If she says no, we’ll be on our way.”
Her wide eyes probed his, “But you can’t promise, can you. You know what happened to Maribeth and Tim. So no, you can say whatever you want, but you can’t promise that tall tales are simply that.”
Maribeth was a girl the Jori was friends with in elementary school. She disappeared during Junior year in high school when walking home from a Halloween party with her boyfriend Tim. Irony at its finest. A witch’s curse on Halloween but for this town, it wasn’t the first and probably wasn’t the last, alleging she was really a witch.
He sighed loudly. He never understood why so many people believed such ridiculous rumors. “Honey, listen to me. She’s just a very odd, extremely old lady who has a bazillion cats. You see stories about women like her on Nightline all the time. Lonely, rich woman dies, leaving all her money to maintain her cats” he laughed, trying to lighten the mood. It didn’t work, she looked as grey as the house. It’s going to be fine. Really.”
He released one of her hands. The one that he still held he kissed and gently, yet playfully, tugged her onward toward his destination. Just as they were about to step onto the piece of broken sidewalk, for the sidewalk in front of the house was the original slab of concrete and was as dilapidated and crumbled as the rest of the place, Jori stopped again, her heart racing and breath coming in nervous pants. The city never bothered to replace the concrete when they redid the sidewalks in the late 80’s. No hand or footprints or words scribbled with sticks into wet cement were found in front of this home the way they were scattered throughout the rest of the area, marking names and dates in order to create memories.
For a yard filled with countless cats, it was silent. It was as if nothing lived there, the crickets weren’t playing their tunes, the birds didn’t even rest on the tree branches, even the gentle summer breeze stopped dead in its tracks at the invisible divide.
“It’s just too creepy.” Her voice was shaking off beat with her hand. “I don’t know Ryan, it’s just not worth it for a few hundred dollars over the summer. Go to the town over and get more business there to make up for this. Please! I don’t think I could stand the thought of you here, working on her yard, every single week.”
“Jori, relax. It’s a quick visit to the front door.” By now, for Ryan, it was a matter of principle. He wanted her business because he wanted to complete the monopoly board. Also, because he was so stubborn. “Fine Jori, you wait here. I’ll go to the door myself.”
“No…wait.” It was too late, he dropped her hand and stepped onto the cracked and ancient sidewalk. Jori let out a squeak, but he wasn’t looking at here, he was looking directly up at the house.
Where he saw the old woman looking out her window, black eyes and white hair.
Where he froze.
Like a stone statue, Ryan was unable to move any part of his body. Even his voice was frozen.
He was terrified.
All he could do was stand there, helpless.
He couldn’t call out to Jori to see if she was safe. He wasn’t facing in the right direction to even see her. He had no idea what was going on and if she was ok. “Please G-D. Please. Let this just be a fluke. Let this just be a nightmare. But most of all, let Jori be exactly where I left her, on the other side of this house.”
He looked up again and saw the woman, whom he was now convinced was a witch, chanting. Moments later, he was released from his enchantment. He could hear cackling coming from a distance, he assumed it was the old woman, excited to finally have had a new victim.
He closed his eyes for a split second, took a deep breath and looked over to where he hoped Jori was still standing.
She was gone. He ran off the broken concrete, onto the newer one, to put a little distance between him and that house.
He gazed off down the street, hoping to catch her running toward her parents house to get some help. He didn’t see her but he didn’t really know how long he had been frozen so she could have made it safely home by now.
Movement caught his eye and he jerked his head toward the Cat Yard where he noticed a beautiful Tabby cat with big yellow eyes staring at him.
His heart sank into his stomach, there was something so familiar about the way that cat looked at him. He couldn’t look away from the gorgeous cat who was mewing softly, tail flicking at him yet not leaving the lawn on which she sat.
“Jori?” he asked quietly, his teeth chattering despite the warmth of the summers air.
A pathetic “Mew” was the response.
Jori? Is that you?”
The cat still sat there looking at him, eyes watering as though it was crying.
He knew, without any doubt, this was his Jori who sat before him. He started sobbing, his heart broken at the fact that Jori had been transformed into a cat while he stood frozen, helpless. The realization that this was all his fault was devastating, the guilt beginning to grow immediately.
He chocked out “Jori, I will find a way to save you. I swear to all things holy and sacred. You will NOT remain like this. I WILL find a way. I promise”
The cat mewed again, turned around and was swallowed by the tall, angry grass of the empty lot.
Ryan ran all the way to Jori’s parents house where he burst in the front door, screaming for all who were home to hear.
Her mother was busy in the kitchen aproned and happily humming, preparing and marinating a meal. Her father was not yet home from work as it was barely noon on during a work week.
“Lorraine!” he had known her so long that calling her Mrs. Slamowitz would be awkward.
Ryan collapsed into a kitchen chair, placed his head down on the table and began to wrack in sobs.
Lorraine had never seen Ryan sob, not since he was a little boy with scraped knees and chipped teeth. She wiped her hands of meal preparation and went to him, alarmed by the obvious fact that his sidekick who he left with earlier that morning, her daughter, was not by his side.
Inbetween chokes and sobs, Ryan let Jori’s mother know that Cliff, her husband, as well as the police needed to be informed that Jori was taken by the witch.
Disbelief was all Lorraine could muster. “Oh, come on Ryan. Really? She’s just a harmless old cat lady. Where is Jori? Is she playing one of her tricks on you?”
Jori was a trickster, that was for sure. She’d hide and leave clues for Ryan to find her. She’d been like that since they were young, now, since they were older, it was sometimes part of their foreplay. The last time, he followed clues to find her at the Sheraton, room 1623, where she had a romantic wine and candlelight appetizer, her, completely naked.
He shuddered and tried to calm himself enough to explain the events leading up to the state he was in.
She simply stared at him, unblinking, eyes tearing.
Still looking at Ryan, she picked up her cell phone and made two calls. One, to her husband frantically explaining to his voicemail that he needed to drop whatever it was he was doing and get home immediately. The other, to the police who promised to send out an officer immediately.
Then, she sat down in the chair next to Ryan where they held hands until the receivers of the phone calls came.
Clifford turned his Cadillac into the newly cemented drive within seconds of the blue and white police “Evidence Technician” Ford truck, followed by a blue and white police sedan, also Ford.
Four large, in varying degree, men crammed into the kitchen where dinner was marinating and tears were being shed. Four mouths opened and closed, wordlessly. Six brains were still trying to wrap themselves around the situation at hand.
One of the detectives, the passenger of the sedan, cleared his voice and spoke first. “These cases are delicate, you understand that, right? Over the years, there have been many and…” he sighed, letting his silence speak for itself.
“Detective Grimwald, Pete, let me make this very clear. My daughter disappeared in the same manner that many other young ladies have in the past. But, unlike the others involved, an unsolved stamp across a file is unacceptable. “ Clifford had gone to high school with Pete Grimwald, a nice but not overly bright guy.
“Dr. Slamovitz, believe me, we are not unsympathetic and we will do our best to find your daughter, of course. But, we just think you need to be aware of the fact that the outcome of these particular cases have never been overly favorable.” The tall, wiry detective whose badge stated his name to be Detective Carlisle met everyone’s eyes. “My mothers sister disappeared 40 years ago, under the same conditions. These cases are personal to me, which is why I became a detective.”
“How long you been on the job, Detective?” Clifford raised a brow in curiosity.
“This is my first year here, sir. My mom is from the neighborhood, her family moved shortly after her sister disappeared. They didn’t want to take any chances, which is understandable considering.”
“Enough with the small talk!” Ryan didn’t want to hear life stories, he wanted to hear a game plan to find Jori and bring her home. “Go investigate or something. Do something or I’ll do it myself!” He couldn’t help himself, he placed his face in his hands and began sobbing again.
“Ryan honey, we’ll find her. We’ll get her back. You heard Cliff, there are no options. Now, describe to the detectives exactly what happened the way you described it to me.”
Ryan spoke, the detectives took notes, sipped coffee and nodded. Ryan told the story in careful detail, repeating important parts when asked and even when not asked. He wanted to make sure they understood what happened and that he wasn’t making this up. The only detective that seemed to believe him was Carlisle, the other two probably figured he was the prime suspect because who really believes in the hocus pocus stuff anyways.
When Ryan was done talking and the detectives were done taking notes and nodding, they left promising close contact and daily updates.
Clifford walked the three detectives to the door, leaving Lorraine and Ryan still seated in the exact spots they’d been in for, what seemed like, hours. The air was still, the only sounds were the muffled voices of men at the door and the ticking of the clock above the kitchen window.
“I’m not waiting on the detectives.” Ryan announced when Cliff came back into the kitchen.
“Funny, Detective Carlisle made me promise to not let you do anything stupid.” Clifford went to a cupboard, pulled out three tumblers and a bottle of single malt Scotch.
After pouring generously and handing them out, Clifford joined Lorraine and Ryan’s silence at the table.
“So Ryan, if you were to do something stupid, what would it be?”
“I’m going to kill the witch. I mean, doesn’t every single tale about bewitching show that when the witch dies, so does her curse?”
“I believe so.” Jori’s mom, Lorraine, took a long swig of her scotch. “But, murder is illegal and you’ll end up in jail.”
“Lorraine. This woman has placed a curse, somehow, on Jori and many other girls. I don’t know how, I don’t know why. But, I’m going to break that curse and get Jori back. I’m not waiting for the detectives and red tape. I’m not. I refuse. This is my fault and I’m going to find a way to fix it myself.”
“Well son, you do what you’ve got to do. I think you have at least one of those detectives on your side though.” He passed Ryan Detective Carlisle’s card with his personal cell phone number written in blue, medium point pen.
“Ryan dear, stay for dinner please. Meredith will be home from drama practice in an hour, we’ll eat then.” Lorraine got up and busied herself by finishing up the dinner she had started making, what seemed like hours ago.
As Lorraine prepared dinner and Clifford drank far too many scotches, Ryan began formulating a plan, one that would have to trick the old woman so that he could get inside that house.
Once inside, a plan wouldn’t be necessary anymore.
He’d just need a gun. Which might be a tiny problem, he’d have to get one from the black market at a high expense.
Or maybe not.
He fingered the helpful, personal vendetta Detective Carlisle’s business card, burning the handwritten number to memory.