Little Hallow is a very small town located just north of Nowhere and three hours west of Witch Haven. It’s so small that the houses are numbered without a road name. Very few come to Little Hallow and even fewer leave. It is a place full of witches and warlocks, owls and black cats, and all sorts of magical objects. The inhabitants of Little Hallow are not happy, per se, but they are content. In such a small town, everyone’s lives are so interconnected, and that is enough to keep them complacent for the moment.
“Lilith! Lucy! Come quickly, now!”
Meredith Rune’s voice carries throughout the old house. She dons her hat, boots, and cape. All black, of course, she wouldn’t be caught dead in anything else. Footsteps chase each other and ricochet off the walls as they come running up the stairs.
“Can I ride my broom?” Lucy pleads while Lilith pulls on her boots.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Meredith responds, brushing away the words with a sweeping of her hand. “The apothecary is just across the street.”
Lucy pouts but obediently pulls her cape on and leaves her broom by the door. Meredith pulls the door open and they all march out single file. The apothecary is, in fact, not just across the street, and the three of them find themselves walking at least one full block. The dirt audibly crunches beneath their feet. Lilith stays close to her mother, but Lucy runs ahead and parades herself every step of the way.
The apothecary bell tingles as Lucy opens the door and hops inside. Meredith and Lilith pick up their pace to follow her. The witch at the front desk is already helping Lucy find cobra venom.
“Hello, Mrs. Furrow.” Lilith smiles and walks up to the witch. “I have a list of everything we need.”
“Very good, Lily.” Mrs. Furrow pats her head then takes the list. “These are quite the ingredients. What kind of potion are you making?”
“A sleeping draught.”
“Oh! That seems rather advanced for the two of you.”
“It’s the midterm test for school.” She responds dryly. “We’re supposed to test them out on animals.”
“And if we succeed then we get to move to the next lesson.” Lucy pipes in. “But if we don’t then we’re going to get held back next year.”
“My goodness! We’d better get you these ingredients then.”
Meredith wanders the shop while the other three rush around to get everything the girls need. She doesn’t need any venoms or toxins, but she does grab one Komodo Dragon scale. It’s large and rough to the touch, but she doesn’t mind. She also grabs burnt mummy cloth, an eye of newt, and a perfectly round piece of dragon eggshell exactly a quarter inch in diameter.
“That’s quite the spell you’re going to concoct.” Whispers a low voice, very close to Meredith’s ear.
She jerks back in surprise and looks up at the speaker. In her reverie she hadn’t noticed the bell or his approach. He isn’t familiar to her, which puts her on edge immediately. It seems that he’s slightly younger than her, late twenties, perhaps, and the mischief in his eyes lingers just above the smugness in his smirk. She's unimpressed, to say the least.
“Hardly.” She shrugs nonchalantly. “I’m just getting some basics I’ve run out of.”
“Is that right?” He quirks an eyebrow then extends his hand. “Killian Blaze.”
“Meredith Rune, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t shake your hand. I know a cursed ring when I see one.”
He laughs and the sound rumbles through the shop. “Very clever, but it only causes a momentary electric shock. A bit childish, perhaps, but nothing more than a bit of fun.”
She glances at him from the side of her eye. “I’m sure my son would find that very entertaining.”
“Every young warlock needs a mentor. I’d be more than happy to teach him my wicked ways.” He winks then steps around her to the other side of the shop.
“Is that everything you need Meredith?” Asks Mrs. Furrow from the desk where she’s balancing the other ingredients.
“Oh, sorry, Dorothy.” She walks up to the desk. “There actually is something I need you to get from the backroom. Five hairs from the mane of a unicorn.”
“Adult or foal?”
“Adult, please,” She pulls out her satchel. “And I’ll need one bucket from the Well of Wandering Souls.”
Dorothy nods and quickly walks into the backroom. Killian walks behind them and changes the situation from two wandering customers to pressure on Dorothy to pick up the pace. She does, and she’s back before Killian even has the chance to comment on anything else.
“Three gold, seven silver, and 6 bronze coins.”
Meredith pulls the coins from her bag with a barely noticeable sigh. She expected the price, but it’s a hard hit to her wallet nonetheless. Once the coins get handed over, Dorothy puts all their supplies in two baskets. Meredith reaches out to grab them, but is stopped by a hand grabbing her wrist. She looks up in surprise.
“We’ll carry them, mom.” Says Lilith, grabbing the first basket.
“Yeah.” Lucy seconds, grabbing the other basket. The three turn to leave.
“I almost forgot!” Meredith turns back towards Dorothy and conjures a bottle out of nowhere. “My cousin sent me this mulled wine, but I have no taste for it. I thought you might enjoy it, though.”
“Oh yes, I think I will.” Dorothy smiles and takes the bottle, then examines it carefully. “You haven’t tampered with it?”
“Well,” Meredith whispers, with a sly smile. “I may have tampered with it a little.”
“It better not turn me into a bat like the cookies Cain gave me last week did.” She reprimands, then pauses. “Actually, that was the best night I’ve had in awhile.”
They share a raucous laugh then Meredith leaves and Dorothy magics the bottle away. Instead of immediately heading home, Meredith circles around the back of the shop where her girls are already waiting by the well.
“Did she accept the wine?” Lucy asks, slightly too loudly.
“You know better than to ask something like that out in the open.”
“Yeah, Lucy, are you trying to give us away or something?”
“It’s just a question.” Lucy grumbles.
“She did accept it.” Meredith attaches a bucket to the well’s rope while her girls squeal in delight.
“Something very exciting is going on here.” Killian walks up to the well. “I wonder if it has something to do with the tampered wine.”
“You’re awfully curious about things that don’t concern you.” Meredith’s breathing grows heavy as she pulls the bucket back up.
“I’m just trying to find out if I should be worried about the housewarming gift you’re going to give me.”
“Yes, I just moved here.” He gestures out towards nothing with his right hand.
“I see.” She pulls the bucket onto the edge of the well and begins unlatching it. Everyone is silent for a moment.
“I wonder what would stop someone from getting more.” Killian mutters as he peers into the well.
“Dorothy put quite the clever curse on it.” Meredith hands him the rope and he attaches his own bucket to it. “If you try to take more than you paid for then you become one of the wandering souls, so to speak.”
“Hmm, yes, clever.” He pulls up his bucket and unlatches it.
“Well, I hope you enjoy Little Hallow.” Meredith turns away. “Come along girls.”
The three of them march off, leaving Killian behind. Lilith stays glued to her mother’s side, which is not unusual. What is unusual is that Lucy does too. Trembling slightly, Lucy grabs her mother’s spare hand. Meredith squeezes it in a comforting manner, but it does little to soothe the anxiety knotting in her chest. Lilith glances back several times then tugs on her mother’s sleeve.
“He’s following us.” She whispers, fear edging into her voice.
“Just keep walking.” Meredith’s head twitches as though she’s going to look behind her but changes her mind. It’s all Killian needs.
“Seems like we’re going in the same direction.” He says, striding to catch up to them. “Might as well walk with you.”
Meredith doesn’t respond, and Killian falls silent. Their footsteps seem to thunder in their ears and they cut through the deadening silence. Meredith considers her options. Should she pretend to live in a different house? Maybe she’ll tell her girls to run while she attacks. Perhaps she’ll roll with it and simply leave with a curt goodbye. Who knows what she would’ve done. Before she has the chance to decide, they’re already at her door.
“Ah, number seven. I’m house fourteen.” Killian turns to face her with a dangerous glint in his eyes. “You know, the only homes available in Little Hallow are the ones around you.”
“Go inside, girls.”
Killian steps closer as the girls scurry up the porch steps. “Why?”
“I don’t know what you’re asking.”
Another step closer. “There’s something off about your family. Everyone knows it. I want to know why.”
“All I’m going to tell you,” Meredith closes the gap between them. “Is that what happens in my family is none of you business. And if you come anywhere near my kids, you’ll learn why no one lives by us. Good day, Mr. Blaze.”
She turns and marches up the steps. The door swings shut behind her and she peeks out the window and sees him entering the house across the street. She releases the breath she was holding. Her footsteps echo as she walks the stairs to the basement. All three of her children are already there and talking hurriedly in hushed voices.
“Now, now, children.” She says as she puts the bucket from the well on a shelf. “That’s enough of that.”
“But mom!” Lucy cries, running up to Meredith. “What if that man knows something?”
“I can assure you he doesn’t.”
“He could figure something out, though.” Lilith mutters worriedly across the room.
“Not if we act normal.” Meredith begins putting the ingredients away. “Cain?”
“Can you help the girls set up their sleeping draught potions?”
“Sure.” He hauls the cauldrons onto their pedestals and begins directing the girls.
Meredith places her cauldron on her pedestal and pulls down her own ingredients. Cain leaves the girls to their test and joins his mother by her cauldron. He watches eagerly as she points to certain objects and mutters to herself. Balancing on the balls of his feet, he waits for her to fall silent.
“Just between you and me,” Meredith whispers after a tense moment. “We need to do something about this stranger.”
“I have an idea.” Cain smiles and Meredith raises an eyebrow at him.
She thoughtfully taps her finger against the cauldron. “We’ll need to be subtle.”
“Maybe,” He scrunches his face in concentration. “We could sneak into his house and plant something somewhere.”
“He’s already suspicious, but I might have a way for this to work.” She pulls a spell book from the top shelf, and flips it open. “Start this potion for me. I’ll be right back.”
She slips back up the stairs as he studies the spell. Any slip ups and the potion will be completely useless. He grabs the measuring cup titled dollop. Then he adds four dollops of the Water of Wandering Souls to the cauldron. The Komodo Dragon scale is ground with a mortar and pestle and a dash of that is added as well. He raises the temperature then adds one unicorn hair. The cauldron sizzles and the room fills with yellow and purple vapor from the three potions in progress. Meredith comes down the stairs as Cain adds the burnt mummy cloth. It dissolves and a sweet scent fills the room. It comes to a boil. Cain removes the heat and stirs while it cools and thickens. Once it cools completely, he drops the dragon shell into it. It briefly ignites into a roaring fire then everything settles and the potion is complete.
“Excellent job, Cain!” Meredith smiles brightly. “That’s a very complicated potion and you did it perfectly.”
He beams up at her. Then the two of them are walking back up the stairs with potion in hand. They barely make it into the living room before the front door opens. Beckham Rune enters his home and steps aside allowing Killian to walk past him. Cain freezes in place and Meredith tenses.
“This is Killian Blaze.” Beckham gestures to the very smug looking man. “He just moved in across the street. He thought he’d invite himself to dinner.”
“Yes, we’ve already met.” Meredith responds tersely. “Cain-”
“Yep.” The boy dashes off.
“What’s that about?” Beckham steps towards his wife.
“Don’t worry about it.” Killian cuts in before Meredith has the chance to respond. “We didn’t get off on the right foot earlier, but I’m just here for dinner.” He adds placatingly.
“I’d better get started then.” She walks stiffly to the kitchen and begins making a chili.
“Children!” Beckham calls into the basement. “Come greet our guest.”
Footsteps pound against the ground as the three of them rush up the stairs. Lilith sidles up to her father and barely meets Killian’s eyes. Cain brushes past them muttering about disgraceful behavior. Lucy flops onto the couch and glares into Killian’s eyes.
“Well,” She grins slyly and pats the cushion next to her. “Have a seat.”
Feeling the threat behind the words, Killian does, indeed, sit down. Lilith and Beckham follow suit and sit on the other couch. There’s a tense silence then Cain comes back into the room and sits next to his father.
“Mom didn’t want help.” He mutters, leaning into Beckham. “She’s not happy.”
Beckham ignores this and turns to the newcomer. “So, what brought you to Little Hallow?”
“I wanted a change of pace. The city was too much for me.”
Silence falls again, tense and uncomfortable. Killian’s eyes drift to the door of the basement. Then he smirks.
“Cain, is it? Want to see a trick?”
“Shake my hand.”
Cain walks forward, somewhat timidly, and shakes Killian’s hand. A jarring volt of electricity shoots through his body. Then he laughs, hard and loud. His laugh is infectious and soon everyone is laughing along with him.
“How did you do that?”
“It’s a cursed ring. I can show you how to do it.”
Cain conjures a ring and curses it exactly as the man shows him. He runs around the room and, just to humor him, everyone shakes his hand too. Then Meredith is calling for everyone and they’re sitting around the dinner table.
“Perhaps we did get off on the wrong foot.” Her face softens slightly. “Please, enjoy.”
Killian is halfway through the meal when it hits him. It feels as though his organs are clenching and unclenching over and over again. Sweat floods him and a blush burns against his skin. His spoon slips from his fingers and clangs against his bowl.
“Poison?” He shouts, stumbling out of his chair.
“No, it’s not poison.” Meredith nonchalantly continues eating.
He cries out in pain and falls to the floor. Panting, he inches his way to the door. The family stands and slowly stalks him through the house. Sliding slowly, he looks at them in horror.
“Who are you people?” He gasps. “What do you want from me?”
“We just want you to go home.” Meredith sighs. “We want you to stop digging.”
“I will!” He pleads as he reaches the door. “I will.”
Then he’s out. He hobbles to his own home and looks back only once before closing the door behind him. Beckham slides his arms around Meredith’s waist and plants a kiss on her shoulder. Meredith closes the door.
“What’s wrong with him mom?” Lilith’s voices squeaks.
Meredith and Beckham turn around. She smiles. “Nothing, darling. He just doesn’t know what a blessing feels like.”
“Hopefully,” Beckham adds, patting Lilith’s head. “He’ll stop fighting it and accept the gift of warmth and passion we gave him.”
“I hope he does.” Lilith smiles brightly. “I think he could do a lot with it.”
“I think so too.” Meredith kneels in front of her children and cradles Lilith’s cheek. “Now let’s get started on the antidote so we can wake up all the cursed animals tomorrow.”
They all beam at each other and head towards the basement. Tomorrow Killian will be a better man or he’ll be too terrified to pry again. The Runes can continue their work of spreading happiness in an unhappy world in peace. Well, mostly in peace, after all, those blessings won’t brew themselves.