Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Onion House, Chapter One

The Onion House.

Supposedly one of the most haunted properties in all of San Antonio, a city well known for haunted houses. The Onion House once sat on a thousand acres of land but has since dwindled down to thirty-six acres. The Leon Valley Preservation Society is in the works to restore the property from its dilapidated state and turn it into a museum for those who would want to know more about the men who settled the wilds of Texas when they were still wild. Sitting back in its own hollow behind a screen of tall, gnarled trees, and a hotel, the old two-story building is a site that many teenagers dare each other to sneak onto and spend the night.
To prove you spent the night, all you had to do was take three pictures: one at sunset, one at midnight, and one at dawn. All in front of Gregory the Gargoyle, a stooped statue that sits near a large expanse of limestone covered with scorch marks, all from former campfires. Walking out from behind one of the trees, I check my watch: about an hour before sunset.
I don’t even know why I’m here. The kids that are staying the night aren’t really close friends of mine, at least not in any traditional sense. I mean, I take all of the same honors classes with them. I’m in the band with the boy’s girlfriends. Hell, I’m the only guy in the Northside Independent School District that plays the flute. The girls all play the flute, save for one, who plays the clarinet. The boys are all on the football team, two running backs a linebacker and the second string quarterback; an eclectic bunch of semi-brainy students who are all choosing to break the law in an effort that I’m not exactly comfortable with.
“It’ll be fun Mike,” Alexis had said to me, tugging on my arm as if to entice me further, “This is our senior year and none of us have done anything crazy yet.”
“So you want to go to the Onion House on the off chance you’ll see a ghost?” I’d replied.
I remember the smirk on her beautiful face, her pale complexion and long red hair making her emerald eyes smoke beneath her lids as she looked at me. “Stop it. You know that if you come then we’ll see something!”
That had been the closest that any of them had come to outright saying it. You’re a Gypsy and a Native American, so you’re more in touch with the spiritual side. And while this was true to some of my relatives, I really wasn’t like my grandmother, at least in that regard. It’s true I have her eyes, and that she’s taught me a good deal of supposed spells and curses, so I can deal with the “white devils” at school better. Likewise, my grandfather hasn’t taught me anything having to do with the dead, except in how to honor them. While he is a shaman to our people, the only things I’ve learned from him are stories and first aid. The latter might be useful tonight if we get bitten by a snake, but for the most part I’ll be virtually useless for any calling of the dead.
That’s not to say I didn’t look up how to call the dead in one of my grandmother’s journals when she was sleeping. She has one, an old leather bound journal, that she doesn’t et anyone read. It’s full of the direst curses, the foulest hexes and the most disgusting spells the Romani have to offer. I’d flip through the pages, past the entry on how to summon Lamia’s and how to curse an object to bring misfortune to others. I’d read about them briefly, but I’d not taken notes as I did when I came across the section with the words “Contacting the Dead” scrawled atop the page. Writing it down in Romani so my friends wouldn’t be able to read any of it, I’d folded up the paper and shoved it in my pocket before sliding the journal back beneath grandmother’s mattress and slipping out of the Vardo. The few cousins that had been lingering close by had all asked me what I was planning on doing tonight, and being fellow Romani I saw no reason to lie to them.
“I’m going with some friends from school to the Onion House,” I’d said.
That had earned a few whistles and claps from my younger cousins, those in middle school, but my older cousins had all taken on serious expressions.
“You aren’t going to try and stir anything up are you?” One, Boldo had asked me. Boldo was a stout college student learning how to be a doctor. It’d been his insistence that had gotten our Caravan to all but quit smoking. It was also due to his collegiate aspirations, as well as those of a few others, that had us settle down in a trailer park, bringing our wagons and Vardo’s to a stop for the last six years. While the older Romani weren’t ones to stay in one place for too long, it meant that we’d grown a reputation as folk healers and palm readers, something the people of San Antonio seemed thrilled to have.
I’d looked at Boldo and smiled. “Nothing like that, they just want to get creeped out so they can have their girlfriends hold them tight.”
“So what do you have to do with this?” Boldo asked.
I gulped and thought for a second, before shamefully looking down. “Two of the girls going tonight are single. I thought I might have a chance with one.”
Boldo had smiled, showing his white teeth, before slapping me on the back. “Then here,” he’d said, reaching into his pocket to pull out a Ziploc baggie of tangled, colorful herbs. “Be sure to be the one to bring this, and you’ll be the life of the party!”
“Isn’t that Uncle’s?” I’d asked, taking a four-ounce bag from Boldo and quickly sliding it into my hoodie.
Boldo waved his hand. “Uncle grows the stuff, he won’t notice some missing. I was planning on taking the rest of the boys out tonight to have some fun, was going to invite you along. But you, with a girl? Now that is a miracle in the making!”
I remember punching Boldo in the arm for his remark before laughing with him. Then I’d gotten on my bicycle and started peddling down Huebner towards the Onion House in the cool October air. Now, as I sit on a section of rock with an unlit campfire set up on the large section of limestone near the main house, I smile as I see the bushes rustle, the emerging forms of my friends coming into sight.
Amber and Brad emerge, both dressed in clothes suited for the colder weather, her in a sweater and him in a brown coat. She’s short with black hair and dark eyes, almost an antithesis to Brad as he is a giant of a man (and still growing!) with blonde hair and blue eyes. They both have an easygoing demeanor about them, which is probably how they ended up with each other earlier in the year.
Next I see Chris and Todd coming out of the brush, Chris helping his boyfriend out from a tangle of vines. Both of them are a little off, with strange senses of humor. I try not to judge, but the fact that they are so openly affectionate sometimes makes me uneasy, though I’d have to say that’s my heritage speaking up and not my own personal opinion.
Amy and Alexis walk from around a high hedge, both wearing light cotton jackets that promise to do nothing against the cold once night falls. Seeing Alexis’s lithe form  swaying over towards us, I smile at her. She returns it and turns her head to whisper to Amy, causing the two brunettes to burst into a fit of giggles.
The last member of our little group is, of course, Kevin. Kevin is a small boy a year beneath us all that has somehow ingratiated himself into the “Cool Kid’s” group. He’s Asian, most likely Filipino if his rich skin tones are anything to guess off of, and wears glasses. He holds a side bag that is much larger than the small purses or backpacks the rest of us brought, one which is obviously heavy as he leans as he walks against the weight in an effort to not fall over.
“You made it!” Alexis said, walking up to me and giving me a warm hug.
“I said I’d make it, didn’t I?” I reply with a lopsided smile.
“Yeah, not many of us believed you’d show though,” Chris said, earning a light round of laughter from everyone else save Alexis. “We all figured you had something to do in your wagon.”
“No,” I smile at Chris, ignoring his sneer. “My Vardo is clean and Phillipe is well rested.”
“Phillipe?” Alexis asked, the others looking at each other in confusion.
“My pony,” I said. “I got him last Spring, I set him up with some grains before brushing him down for the night. He should be asleep by now, the lazy thing.”
“You have a pony?” Kevin asked, looking at me with a raised eyebrow.
“I’m Romani,” I said with a shrug. “We all have horses to pull our carts with. This summer we’ll be moving up to Canyon Lake for the tourists and extra labor to be had selling tubes to the people that want to drift around on the river.”
“Sounds fun,” Brad said with a smile, sitting down on a rock before pulling Amber into his lap, both dropping their bags at their feet with a dusty thump.
“It actually is,” I said. “My cousins always find a party for us to crash and we spend most of the break just making easy money and partying.”
“Enough with what you plan to do this summer,” Todd said, drawing everyone’s attention to him. He stood tall with a white shirt and brown-blond curls. “Let’s light the campfire, I’m freezing!”
I laughed, earning a sour look from Todd, before moving to light the fire. Already pre-drizzled with some kerosene, the dry wood crackles to life the instant I drop a match to it. The rest of us all find seats around the fire, brushing dirt and grit out of the way for seats to be had. I smile when Alexis sits down on the ground by my knee, Amy on the other side of her.
Tonight may just be a fun night after all.

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