“Hope, what do you mean you’re not going to the party? It’s the event of the year!” Jill, my best friend since kindergarten, shrieked loud enough to startle Walter, my black cat.
I flicked the invitation with my black-and-orange-painted fingernails, hoping to hit the wastebasket and truly make my point.
“You’re a witch, you have to go!”
I laughed and Walter hissed. “This is Salem. Everyone’s a witch.”
“Well, you’re the exception, my dear Jill,” I laughed.
“You know what I mean,” she said, having the good grace to look sheepish.
“I’m just not feeling it. I read tarot, mix herbal potions and offer guided ghost walks all day, almost every day. I’m Halloween-ed out.”
I picked Walter up, smoothed his fur and glanced at Jill over the top of his head. “I’m boycotting Halloween.”
“You just can’t pronounce that you’re ‘boycotting Halloween.’”
I studied her and grinned. “I believe I just did. I’m going to stay home, watch rom-coms and hang with Walter. I’m not even going to answer the door to trick-or-treaters.” I nodded, feeling good about my decision.
“You’re a monster,” Jill laughed and picked the invitation up off the floor. “Just in case you change your mind.” She placed the expensive linen paper back on the counter and grinned.
“Unless a ghost from Halloween past arrives and sends me there, I’m staying home.”
“I have to open the store,” I poured cups of coffee for the two of us, filled Walter’s food dish and turned to her. “Are we done with the drama?” I laughed as she gave a huge, shoulder-shaking sigh.
“I suppose, but you’re going to be begging me for pictures and stories of what happens, who was dressed as what and who went home with who,” she said.
“Whom.” I intoned automatically.
“That’s what you got from my rant? Fixing my grammar.” She raised an eyebrow.
I shrugged and sipped my coffee.
“I’m taking mine to go. I’ll bring the mug by later with lunch,” Jill hugged me and kissed Walter ignoring his hiss. “Naughty kitty,” she chided as she petted him. “Toodles.”
* * *
In case you’re wondering, yes, I am a witch. I, Hope Sinclair, come from a long line of witches. I practice Wicca, but I also have a … well, let’s call it a knack, for mixing “potions,” intuitively knowing exactly what a person needs and seeing spirits. Someone coming to the shop may think they’re looking for a “cure” for migraines, but what they really need is a way to relax and unwind.
Can I cast a curse on someone? Probably. Would I? No—it goes against the “do no harm” code. Same with love potions; you don’t cast a spell to make someone love you, but you can enhance your chances, and that I can help with.
As for the tarot, I have been reading them for decades. They calm me and help me find my center in the busy of a bustling day. In Salem, Massachusetts every day is bustling with tourists itching to catch a glimpse of a “real witch.”
Honestly, there are many of us – descendants from the original Salem witches – but there are others who are just incredibly talented. Tourists convince themselves everyone in town is somehow enchanted and we let them – after all, it’s good for tourism. Here, I am the head of the Chamber of Commerce, so tourism is king.
I closed the shop after shooing the last customers out the door, reminding them of the Halloween party in the square. After the last customer left, I leaned against the door and sighed. “Long day, huh, Walter?”
He cast me a long, slow blink, stood up and stretched and sauntered toward the door that led to our apartment.
I checked again that the door was locked, flipped the closed sign, turned off the lights and headed toward home which, thankfully, was through the back of the store.
I thought about ordering a pizza, but knew there would be no delivery on Halloween – too risky with all of the kiddies going door-to-door. I checked the fridge and settled on a bowl of cereal with an ice cream bar chaser. Walter finished his chicken gravy dinner and commenced with his hours-long grooming routine.
I don’t remember when I nodded off, but I jerked awake when Walter dug all of his claws into my thighs, snarling deep in his throat. I jumped up, my thighs paying the price of having knocked Walter so unceremoniously off my legs.
Looking around the living room, I didn’t see anything out of place. The television droned on, the kitchen light still burned, the smell of sage was still redolent in the air.
I picked Walter up and smoothed his fur, “What is it kitty?” I murmured. He stiffened, launched himself toward the stairs and raced down toward the shop. I started to run after him, looked down and saw my fuzzy bunny slippers, flannel pajama bottoms and T-shirt and decided to change into clothes before I followed Walter.
Gripping a candlestick I’d grabbed from the hall table, I crept down the stairs into the darkened shop. Walter continued his deep-throated growls and I heard him scratching at something in the shop. Odd because he never scratched anything other than his posts. I shook my head to clear it, obviously what he was scratching was beside the point at this point.
“I’m coming kitty,” I called out. He hissed and followed that up with an unearthly howl. “What the hell is going on,” I whispered, and felt the hairs on my neck standing up.
I wavered between flipping on the light switch and blinding whomever might be there or knowing that I knew every square inch of the store and could navigate it better in the dark than an intruder. I opted for the latter. I sucked in a breath and crept toward where I heard Walter scratching. I kept to the dark edges of the store and strained to hear any noise from within the store. There were none.
I grasped the door handle then flipped on the light switch, gripping the candlestick. Nothing. No one in the store.
Walter continued to howl and scratch the door. I checked to see he had his collar on, then opened the door knowing he wouldn’t stray far and that he’d come back when I called. I’d trained relentlessly with him when he was a kitten. I wanted him in the store with me but worried he might dash out the door when a customer came in, so it was important that he be collared, chipped and trained to the “come” command. I was more than a little pleased at how smart he was.
Walter dashed out the door and toward the square. I could hear the party going full force, glanced at the clock and realized it was barely midnight. Yeah, I am a party animal, I shrugged.
I darted toward Walter and the square, still holding the candlestick holder. I know just how nutty I looked. I could see the headlines now— “Local Witch Gone Mad on Halloween Night.” I groaned and crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t see anyone I knew.
A cold wind enveloped me and I could see my breath, no mean feat on a night in which the temps were topping out in the mid-60s. I stopped, whipped my head around and tried to find the source. Nothing.
“Hey, Harper!” Jill called from the fringes of the Halloween party.
“So much for going unnoticed,” I muttered, raising a hand in a weak wave.
“What’s wrong?” Jill was at my side before I could blink, the tail of her “adult” cat costume batting me in the face.
I shook my head, “I’m not sure,” I looked into her eyes, “Walter started freaking out, I followed him here and keep hitting these pockets of cold air.”
She shivered and seemed to shrink into herself. “Spirits?” She asked with a shaking voice.
“Yeah,” I gripped her hand, closed my eyes for a moment to calm my thoughts; it was the only way to focus on the threat to the partygoers.
“I gotta go, Jill.” I hugged her tightly. “Look out for Walter, would you?”
She nodded, digging her fingers into my hand before letting go.
Homing in on the source, I shoved my way through the Halloween revelers until I reached a group of teens with an Ouija board. Their fingers rested on the planchet, their eyes were closed. They truly seemed entranced and oblivious to what they’d called forth.
The presence hovered nearby, more ambivalent than angry or threatening. I groped around in the herb pouch I always carried around my neck, looked down and felt Walter rubbing around my legs. The teens didn’t even know I was there because they had been enthralled by the conjuring and they didn’t even know it.
I sighed at the ignorance of people who simply didn’t understand the power of the Ouija board, especially on all Hallows Eve when the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest.
I drew in a breath, held onto the crystal I’d pulled from my herb pouch and felt the cold presence of the spirit hovering close by. I muttered a few words, rubbed the crystal, reached over and snatched the planchet out of their hands. I held it up and steeled myself against the icy blast I knew would occur when the spirit seeped back into its realm.
“Hey, lady, what gives?” One of the teens, roused from the trance looked up and grabbed the planchet from my hand before I could stop him.
“Jesus, what did you do to this? Dip it in liquid nitrogen?” At that, it shattered in his hands, the pieces crumbling to the table.
I shook myself, put the crystal in my pocket, feeling its warmth. I leaned down and picked Walter up, breathed in the scent of his fur and looked at the teens.
“You’re welcome.” I turned on my heel and walked away.
On my way back to the store, several of the other crafters nodded their silent thanks, one handed me a branch of smoldering sage to cleanse my store of the bad mojo the teens had awakened.
Jill fell into step beside me and, ignoring Walter’s hiss and growl, she petted him risking a swat. “Told you you’d come to the party.”
“I’m boycotting next year, that’s for sure,” I said, leaning into her.
I heard the town square clock strike midnight and the Halloween partygoers cheered; no doubt waiting for something spooky to happen.
Illustrations by Josh Carter