On a dark, chilly night, a girl threw out her arms and screamed. A harsh wind picked up, tearing at her hair and shrieking curses at the skies. A bat appeared out of thin air, looking slightly dazed as it was thrown against a nearby tree. Fire flickered from the grass, sending shadows skittering across the clearing. Clouds pulled back to unveil a full, bloody moon. Lightning crackled, stars bled, thunder threatened to rend the earth apart –
“I think you’re laying it on too thick, dear,” a kindly voice said, and the spell broke. Chirping crickets replaced the roaring of the world, and the heavens settled down to resume their cold, distant judgment.
The girl slumped down beside a plump, elderly woman working at her stitches. She pulled dejectedly at her hair.
“I heard Gretchen Mullock down at Knee’s Bore was able to summon a werewolf, three goblins, and a minotaur on her first Watch,” she mumbled. The elderly witch patted sympathetically at her knee.
“Well, Gretchen Mullock couldn’t summon the beginnings of the apocalypse just by screaming,” a third voice grumbled, followed by a hobnailed boot crashing through some nearby bushes.
“Merry All Hallows’ Eve, Mam,” the knitting witch called cheerfully.
“There’s nothing merry about it,” Mam retorted, settling down beside the other two. “Light up a fire, will you. I want some coffee.”
The girl opened her mouth to protest, but seemed to think better of it. She pulled out matches from her coat, and managed to strike up a fire after a dozen tries.
Mam turned to her other companion.
“Anything eventful happen while I was away? Apart from Mai here pulling some poor bat away from its breakfast.”
“Hey –” the girl protested, but was cut into silence as the klick klack of the knitting needles broke off.
“We’ve a visitor,” the elderly witch said, and put down her pattern. Mai dived for the bushes, pulling out a slightly bent hat and stuffing it on to her head.
“I’m going to need a double serving of coffee after this,” Mam grumbled. “Mai, take out that ridiculous skull pin, it makes you look silly.” As she turned away to grab their cauldron, Mai tucked the pin into her multitude of charm bracelets. The elderly witch resumed her knitting.
“Remember what we went over, sisters.”
“Keep the cackling to a minimum?” Mai offered.
“Try not to boil anything or one alive?” Mam suggested.
“That’s the spirit.”
“Hello?” a voice called tentatively from the trees. A thin nose poked out from behind a trunk, and Mam hurriedly emptied the remnants of Granny’s Homebrewed Mint and Spinach Soup into the cauldron.
“Seek you the sisters of Goddess Diana’s coven?” Mai called out, creakily.
“It’s ‘Seek you the sisters of the Coven, worshippers of the Great Goddess of Life, Diana?’!”
“Seek you the sisters of the Coven, worshippers of the Great Goddess of Life, Diana?”
“Aye, I do. May I approach thee, O worshipful sisters?”
“You may,” all three witches intoned.
A fearful man stepped into the clearing. He had watery eyes, and knees that seemed to be suffering an earthquake of their own. His mouth opened and closed like a fish. His eyes jumped from one witch to the other, and a look of utter confusion crossed his face.
“You’re – you’re knitting,” he pointed out, almost accusingly.
“These are my instruments of clairvoyance, with which I manipulate the fate of all men and see into their doom,” the eldest witch said smoothly. Mam snorted, and at a reproachful glance from Mai, turned it into a half-hearted cackle.
“Y-yes. Of course. Um. Well. I – well, where do I begin?” The man looked from each witch, and cleared his throat.
“O horrible sisters of the night! O ghastly servants of the Devil –”
“Diana,” they interjected smoothly.
“ – Diana! I summon thee, I conjure thee! Er – aren’t you going to state your identities?”
“Identities? Oh. Right.” The elderly woman paused in her knitting. “I am Old Woman Witch, wise beyond her years. Oh wait, not wise, that’s the Hag. I’m evil. I am the originator of all wicked maliciousness. I am the thief at the crossroad. I am the reason for plagues and babes’ deaths. I am the creature in your worst nightmare. I am this one’s mother, who herself is… Is… Come on Mam, you have to say who you are yourself.”
Mam rolled her eyes. “I am Middle Aged Witch. I give fertility. It means life,” she snapped, at the man’s slack-jawed staring.
“And I,” Mai said, fully intent on enjoying her moment, “am the Witch of Virg –”
“She’s a maiden,” Mam cut in.
“You’re a bit different than I envisioned,” the man muttered, straining to see beyond Mai’s floppy hat and matted hair. “I mean, I thought you were beau –”
“What have you come here for on this ill-fated night, O Mortal?” the eldest witch said, with a forced cheerfulness.
“O Evil Hag, I mean Old Woman. I have been woefully wronged. I have been grievously insulted. What is rightfully mine has been usurped, and my people cry out for deliverance. I would have justice. I want the bastard usurper’s head, and his wife is a beautiful thing –”
“Have you thought to ask him for it?”
“What, his wife?”
“For whatever it is you think he took,” Mai spat.
“Speak only the truth, Mortal, or suffer the wrath of Hellfire itself,” Mam intoned.
“Oh. Right. Well, thing is, see, he’s my brother, and I’d really just like what he has, you know? But all he wants to do is spend his life travelling on the highway, visiting new places, all that schmuck. He’s the oldest though, and all the stories say the oldest son gets all the honour and the riches from our dad while the youngest is doomed to a life of banishment and evil deeds.”
“They do?” Mai asked.
“You don’t say,” Mam snorted.
“This is what my needles say,” the elder witch said, casting her companions a pointed look. “My needles whisper to me to ask you, why don’t you just tell your brother how you feel?”
“I – what?”
“Well if you want his position and he wants the life that you’re trying to avoid, why not trade places? Stories are constantly changing according to their times and to the people that create them. And people themselves are always changing. I mean, I served as a bartender in my day, and one moment they’re asking for mulberry wine and one second later they’re roaring for some Sham-pain or another.”
“Oh. Right. Well, I never thought of it like that.” The man scratched his head. “That’s good advice, I guess. Um, isn’t there anything else?”
The witches stared at him, their expressions ranging from polite confusion to exasperation.
“Would you like this skull pin?” Mai offered. “It’s said to be cursed with the blood of the Raven King, and in case you fail in talking with your brother, you can always gift this at his coronation banquet and cause his untimely death, therefore clearing your way to power.”
“Oh! Thank you! Bless you, you Midnight Hags!” He caught the flying pin, stuffing it within his breast pocket. He turned to go, but stopped, saying: “Also –”
“Begone with thee, before we cast thee in yonder cauldron and boil thee for our dinner!” Mam roared. The man scampered off.
The silence in the clearing was broken only by the klick klack of the elderly witch’s knitting needles. Mam poured out the contents of the cauldron in the bushes. Mai tugged at the tangles in her hair.
“Well I’m off,” Mam finally said, straightening up. “I’ve got a birthing in the morning and some kids to scare silly later tonight.”
“I’ve promised to go trick-or-treating with my sister’s kids,” Mai stood up. “When shall we three meet again?”
“I’m free next Saturday,” the elderly witch said.
“I’m not. I’m tutoring that day.”
“Works for me.”
“Great. Good night then, Mam. Good night, Hecate.”
“Good night, Mai. Happy All Hallows’ Eve.”