I grew up next to the mouth of a huge canyon. It was beautiful and amazing--like living inside the pages of "Little Red Riding Hood," or "Hansel and Gretel."
Here's a picture of where I grew up:
The winding road we lived by, arched high, past a tiny grocery store and then into the mountains. Even though there were a million things to do exploring and hiking, when I was in seventh grade, I often found it better to visit with my best friend in front of the grocery store.
We'd sit on the salt bags and talk for hours. There was something magical about that salt--once you sat down you couldn't leave, like you'd be breaking the law or something if you moved.
It was on one such day, when I kept thinking, "Am I losing my mind?" It wasn't that things were bad, I was just starting to change. Plus, Jr. High is hard for almost everyone (at least I think it is).
Anyway, my best friend plopped down onto the salt bags next to me. We'd climbed to the very top of the pile and it felt cool being there. We'd seen some high school kids sit there once, and that made it extra dangerous.
We'd bought some ten cent candies from the store and I chewed with my mouth open because at home that wasn't allowed!
"See that hill?" my friend asked, let's call her "Angel."
I nodded because everyone had heard about Dead Man's Hill.
"Do you know why it's called Dead Man's Hill?"
"No," I said, which was funny because I'd known the name for most of my life.
"Well," she said in a spooky voice, "the plastic-loving witch lives at the top of the hill, right by the canyon. But that isn't the bad part. Everyone who's gone down that hill has died or gone to the hospital."
It was a steep hill. I didn't doubt the story for one second, and suddenly I felt so involved, I forgot about my silly teenage problems.
"A skateboarder tried going down that hill. He cracked his head at the bottom and died."
"Then another kid rode his bike down . . . He held a coke in one hand and his handlebars in the other. He waved to some cute girls, lost control of his bike and crashed into a mail box! He broke both of his arms."
"Is that what happened to Dane?" I asked because a kid in our school had recently broken both arms.
"Exactly," she said, and I got the chills.
"That's crappy. I had no idea it was really cursed."
"Yeah, many have fallen prey to the curse of Dead Man's Hill."
It seemed like a true problem, which needed to be fixed.
I didn't like injustice in any way and the hill had beaten far too many people!
"I bet we could break the curse," I said, jumping from the top of the salt bags. I stood on the ground, put my thirteen-year-old hands on my hips and pretended a cape flew behind me. I spotted a cart in that moment and I nodded to it.
"You're right," she said, "let's do this thing."
That's when we grabbed a shopping cart and struggled pushing it up Dead Man's Hill.
Cars rushed past us. People honked and yelled out their windows. We felt like celebrities because we were about to do the unthinkable--we'd conquer that hill or die trying.
"Who goes in the cart?" Angel asked.
"We could do rock, paper, scissors?"
She looked at me and then the cart. "No, if we're gonna beat this thing, we need to do it right. I'm a lot lighter than you. I'll go in the cart."
I didn't like the idea. That was putting a lot of pressure on her AND me, even though I couldn't deny the truth in her words. We were both twigs, but she was the shortest kid in our grade and I was the third tallest. That made a difference.
"You sure about this?" I asked. A creepy feeling kept going up my spine.
She nodded. "But let's go soon. I'll do almost anything to get away from that house." Angel motioned to the home not far from us--it was the plastic-loving witch's house.
Now I know it sounds silly, since I was thirteen and everything, but I was terrified of that house. We'd heard horrific things about children and teenagers who went in and never came out the same.
Her yard was filled with strange plastic decorations. I swear there were hundreds of plastic animals in her front yard. She had a fake pond with plastic frogs and dragonflies by it. There was a section with deer and bunnies. My mom thought it was cute, but I knew the truth--all the kids did. Those plastic decorations used to be people, really we thought they were.
My friend hopped into the cart fast after that, and for me to even hold her in place was a struggle.
"You ready for this?" she asked, sitting in the cart and facing me instead of the hill. She gripped the same handle that I did.
A wind rushed past us, making both of our hair dance because we were like two little warriors facing death.
"I guess," I said, then bared my teeth. "Let's do this."
I looked toward the witch's house and then pushed hard. The cart went down the gravel hill. We were lucky no cars seemed to be around in that moment.
I ran as fast as I could, but then things got wild. The wheels rocked from going to fast. I dug my Sketchers into the pavement, but I couldn't stop the thing.
Before I knew it, I tripped up a step and the cart flew from one of my hands.
"Oh my gosh!" I screamed as it pulled me after it. Angel looked a bit terrified because we knew I couldn't gain control.
"It's the curse of Dead Man's Hill! This was a dumb idea!"
"Ya think!" I said. I scrunched my feet closer to the cart, and stumbled, still being dragged behind the cart.
My pants were trashed from being raked along the ground, but I didn't realize any of that yet, I was too worried. Somehow, in a few seconds, my adrenaline must have kicked in because I managed to put both feet onto the back of the cart. My body threw it off balance though and we careened toward the center of the road. I prayed then, that Angel wouldn't die or break both of her arms. If she died, that meant I would die, and then God would judge me for being such a bad shopping cart driver!
Why had we tried ending a curse anyway? The witch had probably put it on the hill, and what were two kids against someone who could control plastic!
"You need to jump out," I screamed.
"But we're almost to the bottom."
"But there's a CAR!"
She looked back and fear tore at her face.
"One . . ." She said.
The driver didn't seem to see us.
"Two . . ." She crouched in the cart and we veered toward the other side of the road.
"THREE!" We both yelled at the same time.
She jumped from the cart and so did I. I watched as blue paint blurred in my vision. Someone honked, in a complete panic. The whirring of air, flooded past my face, before Angel and I landed on someone's lawn and the car swerved past closer to the canyon's mouth.
I heard someone swear out the car window, but I just wanted to cry with joy.
My heart beat faster than eggs in a blender, and I couldn't catch my breath for a second.
"You okay?" I finally asked.
"Heck yeah," she said. "We both just went down Dead Man's Hill and we survived to tell the tale! We didn't break our arms or nothing!"
I suddenly laughed so hard. I thought about when we'd been sitting on the salt bags. I'd been so sad over such stupid things. Why hadn't I appreciated life and everything I had. Everything looked brighter.
"And all those boys at school said they were scared of going down this hill!"
"And two girls just did it." I laughed. It really felt like we were floating on air.
I sat with my friend and we watched as the cart flew down the hill and eventually crashed into the side of a pizza place.
"Wow, that was a rush. I'm just happy we're alive!" I said. And it was true, there were so many great things to live for.
"Yeah, that was a miracle . . . the curse of Dead Man's Hill has been broken."
"I still can't believe, how we swerved at the last second. It did seem a bit strange," I said.
"Yeah." she nodded. "We made it down the worst part, too!"
We both looked back up the hill, and saw as a strange, old woman stared at us from the place we'd started. Her long gray hair twisted and turned like steam from a hot bowl of soup.
"It's the Plastic Witch!" I whispered.
"And maybe us surviving wasn't a miracle at all." Angel wouldn't take her eyes from the woman. "I think she just saved our lives."
"Really?" I asked.
"Yeah, not all witches are bad, anyway. I think we need to thank that woman."
"Tomorrow?" I asked.
"Tomorrow," she said, and we decided it was time to meet the infamous Plastic Witch.