A cold wind blew down Cherrywood Lane, chasing stubborn leaves off nearly bare branches, whispering spooky sounds this Halloween night. The neighborhood was dark, almost as if the wind had extinguished all the lights. Even the street lights were out, except for a lone lamp, standing sentinel at the entrance to Derry Court. That single street light threw a faint blue fluorescent halo into the angry wind, trying to beat back the shadows. Until suddenly a jagged bolt of blue stabbed at the wind as the streetlight blew out.
Dead leaves swirled and scampered up the lane, encouraged by the anxious wind. They called out in scritchy-scratchy voices, audible above the rushing wind that refused to howl or whistle, raising hair on the napes of five little necks.
Spongebob Squarepants, President Lincoln, Kelly Rippa, Li’l Nas X, and Bobba Fett huddled close and shivered under the newly deceased street light. In a high-pitched, quavering voice, President Lincoln addressed his eclectic and anachronistic followers “It’s really dark now. Should we go home?”
He wasn’t Abe Lincoln’s age, but he was the tallest of the tiny group of costumed characters, and probably older than the rest of them.
Bobba Fett turned an inscrutable look at Lincoln but remained silent and mysterious. Spongebob and Kelly tried to wrap their little arms tighter around themselves and nodded. Li’l Nas X pointed up the hill.
“Look! Lights. That means they’re handing out treats. Let’s go there next.” Then, working at being in character as the popular country music star, he added “What do y’all say to that?” Even having made that suggestion, he looked to President Lincoln for confirmation. Abe stared at Li’l Nas, at the lone house with lights on, back at Li’l Nas, then at his electorate. “OK.” Li’l Nas X led the way, followed by Kelly, Spongebob, and Bobba Fett. President Lincoln brought up the rear as they shuffled from the dead street lamp and up Cherrywood Lane.
Behind them, deep in Derry Court, flickering red light outlined the lowered blinds in the largest house in the cul-de-sac. Inside that house twelve skeletal figures surrounded thirteen black candles. The sporadic light from the candles, blocked at times by one of the black figures, sneaked out around the window coverings, braved the darkness outside, and were swallowed up by shadows before they could even reach the sidewalk.
“I love Halloween.” Marla, like the rest of the women dressed as witches, pointed to the candle sitting by itself. “But where’s Sandra?”
“I’m sure she’ll be here soon,” whined Bella.
“If she’s not, we should go without her,” Lulu offered.
“Remember the year she dressed up as Wonder Woman? She looked amazing.” Anna actually smiled.
“Until she flew,” Lulu grumbled. “Wonder Woman can’t fly. Everybody knows that.”
“But she does leap very high sometimes,” argued Anna.
“And she did strike a pose, much like Wonder Woman,” Nancy added.
“It might have worked,” Trish nodded, “except for her broomstick. It connected her hands to her knees in that pose, and stuck out right behind her.”
Most of the women chuckled at the memory of Sandra flying over their heads while dozens of costumed kids on the street for Halloween that year went “Ooohh,” and “Aaahh,” with at least one “How did she do that?”
“How about the year before that?” asked Francine. “When she dressed up as Cleopatra?”
“I don’t know how she does it,” Ruth queried. “I could never stand to make myself that ugly. Even in costume.” She shuddered with revulsion, just thinking about it.
“But that’s what Halloween is all about,” Yasmin chimed in. “Scary, ugly, mean, frightening costumes.”
Carolinya decided to join in. “That’s not all. We’ve seen Princesses, heroes, movie stars, celebrities . . .”
“Seeing them is one thing,” offered Wendy. “Dressing up like something so repugnant as Cleopatra is another thing altogether.”
“Hold on,” Deborah finally decided to speak up. “Stop thinking like a witch and think like a human.”
“Gross.” Marla made the sign of the pentagram as if to ward off such a thought.
“Ew,” added Trish. “How could you say such a thing?”
That’s when Sandra appeared, sitting behind the only candle that sat on its own.
“Whatcha talking about?” she asked.
“Ugly, horrible, disgusting Halloween costumes,” Trish told her.
“Like Kelly Rippa, Oprah Winfrey. And Cleopatra,” Marla gave Sandra a pointed star as she named the Queen of the Nile.
“Being Cleo was fun,” Sandra smiled without apology.
“How could it be fun?” wondered Lulu.
“Because I knew how ugly I was in that getup, but humans thought I was gorgeous. Especially the men.”
“I could never make myself look like that.” Trish shook her head.
“Well, you don’t have to. This year, with the pandemic, there won’t be many children around. Or adults. We can all go just as we are.”
“I don’t have to hide my beautiful warts, my wrinkles, and my scars?” Trish looked at Sandra, her yellowed eyes wide.
“And I can let my pet spiders crawl in and out of my nose and my ears?” While Marla asked the question her tiny pets added emphasis, crawling in and out of one orifice or another. A larger one even peered out from her scraggly grey hair.
“The humans won’t suspect a group of 13 women, all dressed as witches?”
“The streets are empty,” Sandra told them, “and most of the houses are dark. That’s why I’m late - I was checking out Cherrywood Lane, and the rest of the neighborhood.”
“There’s nobody out there? Nobody at all?” asked Wendy.
“Almost nobody. And most of the houses are even darker than ours. I did make one stubborn street light blow out, just in case. And I saw a single group of trick-or-treaters, but they went up the hill. If we start in the lower part of the neighborhood, we should be fine.”
Nancy beamed, stained, crooked teeth showing between cracked and bleeding lips. She reached behind herself and brought out a broomstick. “I can try out my latest stick.”
At first glance, her broomstick looked like all the rest. A long, black and brown, twisted, and knotted handle, with a bundle of dirty straw at one end. Then the flickering candles showed the group what was different about it. Just in front of the head of the broom, they could see a small bracket, with a roll of toilet paper suspended between the supports.
“So you can go to the bathroom while you’re flying? I just hold it until I land.”
“No, Deb. This lets me fly all around the trees, the house, bushes - and I can TP the place in style, quickly and thoroughly.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” wondered Lulu.
“More houses, less time,” Nancy explained.
“Let’s go!” Marla urged the group. “We can try it out right now.”
“Sorry,” Nancy told her. “We can’t try it out, but I can. I only made one prototype.”
“Who cares?” Trish stood up. “I want to go scare someone.”
“Or toast ‘em.” Yasmin bounced a tiny ball of fire in her left hand. Marla motioned towards the front door, flinging a rush of air to force it open. The girls all leaped on their broomsticks and flew out of the house. Their trail of air blew out all the candles.
“I see what you mean, Sandra. All the houses are dark. Well, most of them.”
“And only one group of kids, Let’s go fire ‘em up.” Sandra reached out and grabbed the handle of Yasmin’s broom.
“Don’t kill them. Just scare them.”
“Why not?” Yasmin struggled to free her broomstick, but Sandra held tight.
“Remember Romania? And the townspeople?”
“I remember. Those peasants, and their torches and their pitchforks. But we got away.” Yasmin saw pain wash across Sandra’s face and deep within her eyes. “Sorry, Sandra. Most of us got away.”
Sandra shook her head. “Let them grow up. More adults to tempt, to torture, to scare.”
Yasmin looked disappointed, but she nodded. “You’re right. I’ll just scare them.”
The coven of witches flew uphill to the lone group of kids. All five children looked up, to see thirteen witches, whirling on broomsticks, high overhead.
“Whoa! Neat costumes,” Spongebob said.
“How are they doing that?” asked Lincoln.
Yasmin tossed five small glowing spheres of fire down, landing one near the feet of each child. Bobba Fett, Li’l Nas X, Kelly Rippa, and Spongebob Squarepants all jumped back, away from the fire near their feet. President Lincoln looked at the fires, then up at the witches.
“Whoa! How are they doing that?”
All five kids heard cackling as the witches turned and flew downhill. The fires at their feet snuffed out. They stood silently for a full minute, some looking in the direction the witches flew off, others looking at the black smudges on the sidewalk. Then Bobba Fett looked in his plastic pumpkin.
“Hey! Look at all the loot!” His plastic pumpkin was full of king-sized candy bars, heaped above the two bite-sized snack pieces nestled in the bottom. The two he collected before the last house, and the witches.
“Best Halloween ever!”
Twelve witches watched Nancy, as she swooped, circled, dove, and did aerial acrobatics over a dark and silent house. Five minutes later she was admiring her handiwork, looking over three trees, two bushes, and an entire house, all draped with streamers of toilet paper. Used toilet paper, of course.
All twelve flew in close to Nancy. Even though they all spoke at once, she could hear every one of them.
“I want one!”
“Can you make me one for next year?”
“How much will it cost me?”
“I wonder if we could add a wing to the broomstick? With one TP holder at each end?”
Some of her friends babbled the same thing at the same time. She looked at Sandra.
“Wanna switch broomsticks, and reload?”
“Best Halloween ever!”