“Disrespectful, that’s what it is,” Isolde whispered fiercely to her companions.
A group of children walked by, weighed down by heavy loads of candy. There were not many children still out, as it was getting late, but the stragglers—ghouls and princesses and one boy dressed as a toothbrush—still wandered, looking for the last houses with lights still on.
“Oh, go eat a toad, Isolde. Let the mortals have their fun,” one of the others replied. She looked like a child herself, small and youthful, but her eyes were ancient as the stars themselves and twinkled with knowledge.
Isolde was a proud woman with stumpy legs and a long braid of silver hair. She wore all black and exuded an air of superiority as she struggled to control the anger that threatened to steal across her face.
“It’s ridiculous, Eleanor, these imps traipsing about and making a mockery of us!” she hissed.
Eleanor rolled her dark eyes and said nothing more, tired of the elder woman's constant complaints. It was Hallows Eve, and still she complained.
“Let’s just get this over with,” Isolde said, picking up her pace. The three figures vanished into the night.
Janie Brown was alone, headed home after a long night of trick-or-treating. The young girl was only a block away from her destination. She never saw the witches coming. It was difficult to see much through the Batman mask she had begged her mom to buy, but even without the mask, the witches would have had the element of surprise.
They appeared from out of nowhere, one tall, thin and yellow-eyed, another plump with silver hair, and the third not much taller than Janie, with dark skin that seemed to glow in the starlight. Her candy spilled into the street when they grabbed her, and a distant peal of thunder echoed through the night.
Janie screamed, of course, and thrashed and kicked and tried to bite, having forgotten in her fear that she was wearing a mask.
“This won’t do,” the smallest witch whispered, and tapped the top of Janie’s skull lightly with a single finger. The girl instantly fell into a deep sleep and collapsed, and the plump witch rushed to catch her.
“Eleanor, you absolute rat-tail!” scolded Isolde breathlessly. “You almost damaged our mortal!”
Eleanor turned sharply towards the eldest witch. “Oh, I’m sorry, Isolde. Did you want me to let her wake the whole block?”
“Enough,” whispered the third witch. “Let’s get her to the Circle. We’re wasting moonlight.”
The bickering witches fell silent at the admonishment. Isolde picked their victim up, shivering at the mortality she sensed in the little girl's body. The child's small hand dangled helplessly in its black glove. As suddenly as the three witches appeared, they were gone, leaving behind no trace except for the Batman mask, which fell from the girl's face as they vanished.
The small clearing in the middle of the woods was silent, still as death. Dark trees stood tall and dense, motionless in the windless chill of the night. Frost lay near the roots of the trees and thinly blanketed each blade of grass. The sky was dark and dusted with pale clouds that obscured the faint light of the stars and the waning moon, which was little more than a small smile in the sky.
The witches appeared in the clearing with time to spare. Eleanor checked on the girl, still fast asleep in Isolde’s arms. She looked fine. Her innocent face was slightly flushed and her hair was in disarray, but she was breathing steadily and slowly, lost in peaceful dreams.
Isolde laid the child down on a flat, low stone in the center of the clearing.
“What next, Rowan?” Eleanor asked.
The tallest witch stared down at the child and her yellow eyes filled with something akin to tenderness. “Now, we wait.”
They stood in silence around the unconscious girl. The night grew darker as clouds begin to gather over the clearing. Slowly, silently, more witches began to appear around the edges of the clearing. They stood in small clusters of fours, waiting.
At some secret cue, the figures around the edge of the clearing began to whisper in unison, their collective voices forming the unintelligible syllables of a language known only to them. The clouds grew darker, thicker, until the clearing was engulfed in a darkness that was almost tangible.
Another silent cue, and the witches fell silent. Rowan turned away from the girl and towards the others.
“Sisters, we gather tonight to mourn the loss of Helene, who was like a mother to many of us. Her passing has cast a shadow of sorrow on us all.”
Behind Rowan, Eleanor sniffled, and Isolde quickly wiped a tear from her own cheek.
“My coven is now only three, and we are eager to present to you the mortal we have selected to take Helene’s place and make our sisterhood complete once more.” Rowan stepped aside and gestured to the girl, who stirred slightly and then lay still. The clusters of witches around the clearing regarded the child eagerly, nodding and murmuring amongst themselves.
Janie struggled to stay still and keep her eyes closed. Her heart pounded frantically in her chest, and she was afraid that her abductors would be able to hear it. The stone beneath her was cool and well-worn. She wished she could melt into it, hide herself away. She wished she could open her eyes and be back home in her bed, listening to her mom try to quiet her new baby brother while the twins complained about bedtime.
Janie wished she had not convinced her mom to let her go trick-or-treating with Susan and Brenda, who had ditched her two blocks from home because she was walking too slow. She wished she was not afraid of the dark which now surrounded her so tightly that it made no difference when she finally worked up the courage to open her eyes.
She heard voices, whispers, all around her. There was nowhere to go.
“Tonight, we bestow upon this girl the gifts which once were given to us,” one of the witches declared loudly. Janie whimpered, but no one heard.
“We vow to raise her in the ways of the coven,” the witch called loudly.
The others responded in a whispered language that Janie didn’t know.
“We vow to uphold the bond of blood and bone which we make with our new sister tonight.”
Whispers sounded again from the darkness. Janie couldn’t breathe.
The witch began to speak loudly in the same strange language. The air filled with electricity, and lightning struck the stone near Janie’s feet, illuminating the figures dressed in black that surrounded her. She shrieked but was unable to move.
The rest chanted in unison, their voices growing louder and louder until Janie could hear nothing but the words that she did not recognize.
She felt a strange warmth coming from the stone, spilling over into her fingertips. It laced through her arms and legs as the witches chanted. Janie struggled, but she was frozen in place, held down by an invisible weight. The warmth spread through her body, filled her heart and her head and her bones, and suddenly became ice-cold.
Janie gasped. The cold began to peel away at her memories. She forgot her mother’s face, her brother’s name, the sound of her twin sisters laughing. Then she forgot she had a family at all, that her name was Janie, that she was nine and loved playing in the rain. The cold peeled away at something else, too, something which she hadn’t even known was there, weighing her down. She felt free with it gone, light and empty.
The language the witches spoke began to sound familiar. Her lips mouthed the ancient words one time, and then she heard nothing, saw nothing.
She knew only the cold and the darkness.
Silence fell in the clearing. The darkness began to lift.
Rowan stood over the young girl, waiting. A tear fell from her eye and landed on the child’s forehead. This process was difficult, but it was for the best. Eleanor’s visions were never wrong; this child’s future would have been a painful one, and short. Only magic could cure the sickness that would have claimed her life.
The girl opened her eyes, which were unafraid and filled with lightning. She would be powerful, perhaps even more so than Rowan herself, when she was older.
Eleanor helped the girl to her feet, and the child stood there for a while, looking around. She regarded the black gloves and cape of her costume with brief confusion, but these little questions were immaterial compared to the new power and knowledge which filled her. She was new, born of storm-clouds and moonlight.
“Sister, tell us your name,” Rowan said.
The girl regarded her carefully, and the clouds overhead dissipated. The clearing shone with silver starlight, illuminating the group of witches, who waited in complete silence.
“I am Levina,” the girl said, her eyes flashing with electricity.
A peal of thunder rang in the cloudless sky. The witches smiled: the ritual was complete. The girl was one of them.
“Welcome home, Levina,” Rowan said, wrapping her new sister tightly in her arms.
Isolde and Eleanor regarded each other silently, their enmity forgiven as they approached Levina. They joined their sisters, faces wet with the bittersweet tears of loss and hope. As the other witches disappeared from the clearing, the coven lingered in the embrace, finally healed. Finally whole.