The shopkeeper's bell rang and announced to Brigitte that she had another customer. She had been staring through a small, dusty window in the back of the apothecary and had accidentally ground a pinch of belladonna into a powder too fine to be of use. She went behind the cash register, wiped her hands on her apron and put on her face shield. A black-haired woman dressed in a velvety black coat and a matching mask stood in the corner of the shop studying the small flasks of potions and natural remedies.
“How can I help you, miss?” Brigitte asked.
The woman jumped but quickly composed herself again. She approached Brigitte holding out a slip of paper between two fingers. Brigitte saw a silver medallion engraved with a three-formed Hecate hanging from the woman's neck
Brigitte took the slip of paper, skimmed the list of items and glanced back at the woman.
“I would need an ID, madam.”
“Absolutely,” the woman said, pulling off her mask.
Brigitte watched the woman's eyes turn bright green and her face morph into a sharp-fanged skull. Taking her cue, Brigitte then performed her own transformation, flashing eyes of bright purple and fangs of an impressive length. A moment was enough. She collected herself back into her human form and saw that the woman had already done the same. They smiled at each other, and the woman covered her mouth again.
“Forgive me, High Priestess, but it’s just protocol.”
“It’s all right, Brigitte.”
“You flatter me, High Priestess.”
“Please call me Sarah.”
Sarah was one of the leaders of the High Council of Witches. They worshipped Hecate, the Greek goddess of crossroads and mother of witches. In the 1400s, after one of the council cursed Vlad Tepes and transformed him into a vampire, Tepes exiled the entire council from Transylvania. Those distant ancestors of Brigitte's traveled across the ocean and finally chose Salem as their seat of power. That was before the town had a name.
“Very well, milady,” Brigitte said. “Please take a seat. I’ll be right back.”
In the back of the shop, she rummaged through pigeonholes filled with herbs—stirring up the scents of lavender and poisonous belladonna—and flasks filled with almonds, pieces of yew tree, and garlic, all sacred materials to the goddess Hecate. She weighed the jar filled with pieces of yew tree on the scale while she wrapped lavender in paper.
She returned to the front desk with the items, and Sarah placed the magazine she had been reading back on the table.
“That will be $15.95, milady.”
“Put it on the High Council’s tab,” Sarah said. “By the way, did you receive the invite for tonight’s Halloween ritual, Brigitte?”
“Yes, I already sent my reply and my offerings last week, milady.”
Sarah nodded. “Good.”
Brigitte placed the items in a brown bag and, stealing a glance at the High Priestess, saw her purse her lips. She heard the tapping of fingertips on the wood counter.
“Something the matter, milady?”
“Vlad Tepes. He’s here. In America.”
Brigitte choked on her own saliva. Her vision went red and, before she knew it, her face had morphed and her body was shaking with power that she was barely able to contain. Then she felt the cool skin of a human hand on her wrist. Her face shifted back to human. She glanced at her High Priestess.
“Are you kidding me?”
Sarah shrugged. “I wish it were a joke. Vlad was exiled from Transylvania and sent here. He’s living in Williamsburg, Virginia.”
“How did you find out, milady?”
“Ayla told me. She says she’s just friends with the vampire, but if you ask me, it’s something more. And I encourage it. It will help us keep tabs on the old bat.”
“You’ve got a point. Then again, it was Ayla’s great-grandmother who cursed him to be a vampire.” Brigitte finished packaging the items and set the bag on the counter. “Have the other High Priestesses said anything about this, milady?”
“Leave the vampire alone, they say. He’s no longer as powerful as he used to be. They’ll keep an eye on him, of course. The council has permitted us to intercede should he cause any trouble.”
Brigitte bit her lower lip. “Are you sure we can trust Ayla’s judgment?”
“Ayla may be young, but she is wise. We can trust that much. She’ll know how to handle him should he start to misbehave.” She winked. “You know what I mean.”
Brigitte chuckled. “I guess you’re right.”
“Well then, I still need to visit other shops. See you tonight at 11:30.”
Sarah grabbed the bags and headed for the door. Brigitte called after her with wishes of good luck on her trip. The door had barely shut when another customer stepped in, a young woman with bright red hair.
“Do you have white sage, Brigitte?”
“Yes, it arrived just this morning. How much do you need?”
Brigitte nodded and headed to the back. She thought of the forthcoming ritual and nearly dropped the box of white sage. It had been nineteen years since a full moon blessed Halloween, and everyone was eager to make the night extra special.
She returned to the front desk and saw the shop filled with more customers. Today would be a busy one.
Around 11:00 that night, Brigitte parked her car down the street from Charter Street Cemetery. She didn’t want to draw attention to the cemetery. She watched lines of parents and children going door to door trick-or-treating. A couple passed nearby her car window with a child dressed as a ghost. She checked her watch, saw that it was almost time, and stepped out of her car.
The others were already gathered near the gates of the cemetery. She put her mask in place and pulled the heavy hood of her cloak over her head. She joined them, facing the tall iron fence. No one spoke. They nodded in recognition of one another. While Brigitte studied her coven, composed of witches and werewolves. The latter sought refuge with the witches in America after Vlad Tepes hunted down the werewolves into near extinction.
A form emerged from the shadows of the cemetery trees, and Brigitte saw hands of smoke pull open the gates before promptly receding back into nothingness. They all marched inside. Brigitte and her sisters walked among the variously shaped tombstones engraved with winged skulls, hourglasses, and scythes. They reached the tallest of the tombstones where a shrine of the goddess stood. Three tall white candles and numerous pumpkins surrounded the wooden three-formed Hecate depicted with a torch in each hand and with two dogs at her sides.
The High Priestess, clad in a black robe, separated herself from the group. She pulled off the hood of her cloak, revealing a headdress that held a medallion engraved with a crossroads and three crescent moons.
“Merry meet, my daughters and my adopted sons,” Sarah said.
“Merry meet, mother witch,” the coven replied.
“Tonight is a special one. It’s been nineteen years since a full moon has blessed us on Halloween, but before we begin our ceremony, I must make an announcement: The vampire who kicked our ancestors out of Transylvania is here in the US.”
The moment the words left Sarah’s mouth the air around them shifted. The happy aura disappeared as if sucked by a vacuum. It was as if a bomb began to tick. Brigitte winced.
The collective shout, followed by angry murmurs and curses, replaced the oppressive silence. Brigitte even saw a werewolf, the mate of one of the witches, accidentally shred his clothes into pieces as his anger with the news caused him to lash out. Sarah raised her hand. A long moment passed before everyone calmed down enough to listen to what their High Priestess had to say.
“Believe me, children, we were as astonished and angry as you are. But there was nothing we could do. It was the decision of the High Council of Monsters to exile the vampire to America.”
But what about us," a voice asked. The person standing next to Brigitte folded back their hood, and Brigitte saw the same red hair she had seen earlier that day. It was Lilith. "Are we to simply accept their decision while ignoring what he did to our ancestors centuries ago?”
“Your fears are well-founded,” Sarah said. “But unlike our ancestors, he no longer has power. For this is our home, our domain. The vampire will answer to us should he go back to his old ways. Also, your younger sister, Ayla, has sworn to take full responsibility for the vampire’s actions.”
Gasps and surprised murmurs circulated. The tension in the anger-filled atmosphere relaxed.
“Ayla?” asked the werewolf. “The girl whose great-grandmother cursed that old fool Vlad Tepes to be a vampire?” He barked with laughter and shifted back into his human form, apparently not bothered at all that his shredded clothes slipped off from his shoulders and piled around his feet. “Yeah, that would be a lovely sight to watch, when that girl burns the old fool to a crisp. He would be wise not to provoke her.” The naked man finally accepted a cloak someone was pushing at him.
Calm was restored to the night, and Brigitte sighed. She had visualized many worst-case scenarios, and they had taken it better than she had thought they would.
Sarah nodded, blessing the restored calm, and claimed back the coven’s attention by clearing her throat.
“Good. Now that I have made my announcement, let us continue with our celebration, my children. Not only do we honor our mother, Hecate, but tonight we also honor those who have died. For at midnight, and with the strength of the full moon, the veil between worlds will drop, and our loved ones will join us again. But do not get sad, my children. Death, whether it occurs inside the realm of mortals, is natural and inevitable. Without it the cycle of rebirth would not be possible.”
The others nodded while they prayed for Hecate’s wisdom.
Brigitte blinked quickly attempting to control her tears. How I wished I could see you tonight, my love.
“You may place your wishes and offerings at the goddess’s feet,” Sarah said.
One by one they stepped forward and left pieces of paper, raw meat, daggers, keys, and mummified snakes at the foot of the goddess’s shrine.
Sarah approved each of the offerings while she lighted lavender and myrrh. She glanced at Brigitte who wore a smaller version of the same headdress she wore.
“My young High Priestess in training, you may lead the ceremony.”
Brigitte nodded and picked up a goblet filled with wine. She spilled the dark liquid on the earth as she danced around the shrine in rhythm with Sarah’s chant. Soon the others joined her. They asked Hecate to protect their homes and to guide their loved ones on their journey to the underworld. They recreated with the movements of their dance the pattern of the crossroads.
Brigitte recited her prayer to Hecate—the same one she had been reciting since the Witch Trials. She prayed to Hecate to guide the soul of her husband, a victim of the trials, to his resting place. Let him know I am well.
Then, in the middle of their dance, the coven broke apart to head to the tombstones of their deceased, to decorate the stones with candles and favorite objects and food before they returned to the shrine. They emerged from the rows of tombstones, completing the pattern of the crossroads, just as Sarah reached the end of her song.
“Long live our mother, Hecate!” Brigitte said.
The others repeated her praise and bowed. Then they divided into small groups and filed towards some nearby banquet tables that were filled with pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin spice latte, and pumpkin soup, all in honor of Halloween.
Brigitte took her part of the feast to go, returning to her husband’s resting place where she cleaned the headstone before raising her pumpkin spice latte.
“Cheers, my love,” she said, and she blew a kiss at the tombstone.
While she ate, she told him about her day and about her ideas for remodeling the shop. She told him about their daughter’s latest achievement in quantum mechanics. When she was finished eating, she reached out a hand to caress the cold and rough stone.
“I miss you so much, but at least we have tonight,” she said, hugging her knees. “Every day, I fear losing another memory of you, my dear.”
She sighed and rose from the ground and bent over to brush the dirt and leaves from the hem of her dark robe. That was when she heard it. Whispers. Footfalls on the brittle leaves. She froze. She strained her ears. She had imagined it. But, no, there it was again. Closer now.
“Hey, check it out, dude!” said a voice. It came from a few tombstones behind her. “Hot chicks!”
“Really? In a cemetery?”
Brigitte rolled her eyes. Brigitte rolled her eyes. Stupid mortals, witches did not dance naked in public places, not in the middle of autumn. None of them wanted to die of hypothermia. In the summer season they danced naked, sure, but in the privacy of the forest and only when one of them was trying to conceive.
She dropped to the ground and crawled behind a tall tombstone. She craned her neck to peer around and spot the flashlights. She could make out the forms of two male teenagers, one dressed as Pennywise and the other as Michael Myers.
“Are they finished?” said Michael Myers.
“Nah, they’re just resting. They usually dance again during the witching hour,” said Pennywise.
“Three a.m., dummy.”
“In one hour. That’s so awesome!”
One of them flashed his light toward her and Brigitte shrank against the tombstone. Her heart hammered against her chest.
Shoot! They saw me!
She glanced at the two teens before she turned into mist and rematerialized before Sarah who almost dropped her piece of pumpkin cupcake in shock.
Brigitte did not waste a second. “We have visitors, milady.”
Sarah recovered and licked her lips clean. “Where?”
“Two tombstones away from my husband’s.”
They both saw the flashlights then. The intruders were close.
Brigitte looked at Sarah. Sarah nodded. “You know the drill.”
Brigitte headed to the front of the shrine. “My fellow witches,” she said, “it’s time to honor our master.”
Some members of the coven scoffed while others whispered again under their breath. The phrase honor our master was code for we have mortals trespassing. Brigitte faced the shrine, and the rest of them took their places. They began chanting incantations, inviting dark magic to possess them.
Brigitte spotted the two teens and with the flick of her hand brought them forward.
“What the…” said Pennywise.
The teens looked at the group of witches and werewolves gathered around the shrine. They hugged one another, Pennywise’s forehead sweaty and his make up ruined.
The witches fed on the fear.
“This night graces us with two willing sacrifices,” Brigitte said. “Let us begin!”
“Wait a minute, we didn’t—” But their cries fell on deaf ears.
The witches began to dance around the shrine. Sarah took her position behind the shrine and commanded the flames to grow. The flames burst and at that moment the witches revealed their true forms. Their bodies shifted into winged creatures with sharp-fanged skulls—hairy monsters who danced before the fire and cast monstrous shadows all around. The two teens let out high-pitched screams. Pennywise’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets.
Brigitte bit her lip as she tried to contain her laughter. She imagined the impression the sight of the witches must have on them. The two teens shrieked and jumped while the witches danced around them and pinched their butts. Then the werewolf shook his head in front of them, growling and spitting foam from his mouth. It was too much for the mortals to take. The two teens rose from the ground and ran away as fast as they could, their screams amplified by the hollow cemetery.
Brigitte collapsed on the floor, holding her sides, her ribs cramped with laughter. The rest joined her. Even Sarah laughed until tears spilled from her eyes.
After she recovered, Sarah clapped her hands. The witches all stopped and rose from the ground.
“Oh my, I’m sure we left quite an impression on those two,” Sarah said, chuckling. “Now, how about we wrap it up and continue our celebration at Lilith’s house?”
They murmured in agreement and dispersed through the graveyard to collect the trash and clean the areas around the tombstones. Some even took their time to say their farewells to the spirits of their loved ones.
Brigitte helped Sarah cleaned up the shrine. She was about to put the image of the goddess back into its box when a bone-chilling air caressed her back.
Brigitte, the wind whispered.
Her heart hammered in her throat and a feeling of bitter cold spread in her chest--then turned warm, then hot sensation spread over her chest. She looked over her shoulder and searched among the headstones until she stopped at her husband’s. A gasp escaped from her lips and her eyes burned with tears. Next to the gravestone stood her golden-haired husband. He wore the long-sleeved, high-necked black coat she had made for him three centuries ago—the very same one he was buried in. He looked the same as he did in her memories.
“Caleb,” she said.
Caleb smiled and blew her a kiss. She caught it. She touched her fingers to her lips and smiled at him. They gazed at each other, their eyes filled with hopes and dreams that would not come true—not before another breeze blew, and his ghostly figure was swept once more into the night.