by Toe Hallock
Enjoy yet another fun Halloween short story!
It was your typical October 31st evening in Lordsburg–nightfall closing in earlier than usual, ground fog creeping about as if wearing sneakers and a mystery cottage appearing out of thin air. All this, in the Spirit of the Season–Halloween.
The festal bungalow could only be described as possessing superfluous elements related to its gingerbread design. The exterior walls are a frosted white with sparkles of gold and silver, the windows shuttered in peppermint stripes. Butterscotch eaves rakishly sported a chapeau of overlapping peanut brittle roof tiles. Young trick-or-treaters, seduced by its appealing fairy-tale enchantment, would presently come upon a delicious jelly bean walkway leading them to a porch with chocolate chip columns and an open doorway promising experiences surpassing even their wildest imaginations. Being bewitched, the mystery cottage showed up only once each year, on some abandoned lot never in the same location: by dawn the next day it was gone. A transitory memory, if even that, the previous night’s Halloween adventure forgotten, except invariably by the one family whose child it was had vanished–gone without trace, as though swallowed up by the insatiable mists of darkness.
This was witch, Hazel’s, favorite night of the year, when Earth, moon, planets and stars rallied in harmonious conjunction. The selection of a beginner apprentice was always an exciting occasion. It was a simple process really–trick-or-treaters showing up nonstop until all treats, down to the last crumb, were greedily consumed. Then she would wait, patience being prudence and without fail, one of youngsters would always return, drawn back spellbound after consuming a small glacé pellet. Tonight would end all that. Her once abundant supply of the precious pill was totally exhausted, which mattered not at all, since whoever crossed that threshold would be her final recruit and Hazel, would have the necessary numbers for putting her ultimate scheme into action.
Following through on strategies, however, was one of her many deficiencies. Absent native aptitude, she habitually overcompensates by relying on a complete lack of talent, not to mention the poorest of judgment. She was a blot on the proud heritage of witchcraft and an absolute embarrassment to those faithfully committed to the honest practice of the so-called obscure arts.
Ding dong! “Ah, at last,” witch Hazel exulted, interlacing then loosening her gnarly twisted fingers, all thirteen of them, in the excitement of the moment. The front entrance automatically opened upon the little girl’s approach. Before her stood a pint-sized princess, perhaps seven years of age, wearing an elegant gown of shimmery apricot taffeta. She held a small package wrapped in colorful parchment and delicate ribbon. She also possessed certain serenity, along with an abiding loveliness. Quite surprising, really, in one so young. She seemed a perfect choice, yet, witch Hazel could not easily dismiss the vexing sensation that everything was not as it should be.
“Come, my pretty,” Hazel beckoned–her uncharacteristic smile more a grimace, exposing a mouth full of missing teeth–“into the parlor where it is nice and cozy. I will get us some hazelnut tea once we are settled.” Then she marched off, leading the way, following poorly lighted passageways, going this way then that, until they finally reached their destination. Drapes hung everywhere, creating a filthy, cluttered mass of hidey-holes only the most cultured among arachnids could rightly appreciate. “Make yourself comfortable,” witch Hazel suggested, brushing debris off one of the tatty upholstered chairs with a dirty rag. Glancing back for affirmation, she received the shock of her many lives!
She collapsed, she sputtered, she nearly croaked. “Zelda!” she barely managed in hushed disbelief.
Standing before witch Hazel was a grownup version of the little princess in taffeta. “Greetings, Baby Sister. Up to your old deceits again, I see? Most of us learn from our past mistakes, but you are too stubborn for that.”
“Really, now. What makes you so smart?”
“Look at yourself. A miserable, pathetic remnant of limitless potential who ignored, then trashed her time-honored family birthright. You were the fairest of all and everyone’s absolute favorite.”
“So? Now I am a hoary old hag, and proud of it! It is what the common folk expect.”
“A stereotype for a witch? Based on an embarrassment of medieval distortions? Phaw! No one believes such nonsense anymore.”
“Says you.” Witch Hazel went into full pout.
“See what I mean?” witch Zelda reminded matter-of-factly. “Stubborn.”
“No. It is the rest of you who are wrong. Besides, nothing I have done involves you.”
“You think not? This visit is not exactly a social call, Baby Sister.”
Immediately alarmed, witch Hazel began gnawing at one of her deformed knuckles like a nervous puppy on a bone. “Then what…”
“Ever use the noodle?” witch Zelda asked, tapping forefinger to temple. Somehow, she kept her sarcasm in check, a remarkable accomplishment to say the least. “Not even a little bit curious about why I am here? Or how I tracked you down?”
“Yes, about that,” witch Hazel acknowledged, her bewilderment undisguised. “We have avoided each other since almost always. Why now?”
“Because of this,” witch Zelda responded, handing her an unused, intact candied capsule.
“Where did you get this?” A perturbed witch Hazel swallowed the evidence. It would have no peculiar effect because of her age, and since she already was where she was.
“From my daughter, Greta. She is your niece by the way.”
“You see, I am a good mother. When she brings her basket home after trick-or-treating I go through every piece of junk, throwing away what is bad for her, letting her keep what is harmless. She is very good about it, too–never a fuss, nor a complaint.”
“Now what?” witch Hazel dreaded asking.
“Here. Greta sent you this.” It was the package she recalled from when the princess arrived. “A peace offering of sorts, so go ahead–open it!”
First the ribbon, then the paper and finally the payoff–a beautiful box fashioned from the finest of inlaid woods, embellished by platinum hinges and catch. Inside, resting on a pillow of fine purple velvet, was a wafer-sized pendant made of materials not known in the natural world, on its face, a polished crystalline cover allowed a peep into the kinetic workings of an intricate array of gears and levers. There were special dials and indicators for every function. It was a timepiece, gyrocompass, and dimension locator, but even then, it possessed features not yet fully utilized.
“How cool!” witch Hazel exclaimed, barely able to contain herself. Then, in her typical unthinking way, “What is it?”
“Let me show you,” witch Zelda offered, placing the pendant with necklace around witch Hazel’s bowed, scrawny neck. “There, you see? It is an amulet, which guarantees protection from danger and harm.”
“Wonderful,” witch Hazel agreed. “Now, help me get it off, so I can get a better look.”
“Wha– whatever do you mean?”
“Baby Sister, that amulet is now your eternal pet and undying companion for the rest of your miserable existence,” witch Zelda answered with no sign of sympathy. “You will find yourself darting about from one indefinite whereabouts to another. You will be in a constant state of timeless free fall with nary a nanosecond available for your malicious mischief.”
“This amulet. I thought it was supposed to help me.”
“I think you misunderstood. That amulet was specifically designed to safeguard the innocent from the menaces like you.”
“Sorry. But you must leave now, never to return. ”
“You have got to be kidding,” witch Hazel argued to the bitter end, as she faded into oblivion.
“Trick or treat!”
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