Something Ventured Something Gained
Martin Rogers, a television producer and impresario, was not actually friend of mine but our paths had crossed. I’d heard of the parties he threw at his centuries old estate in Massachusetts. My friend, Kate had once been his guest and said they weren’t to be missed.
‘I won’t tell you about them, Elizabeth, instead I’ll arrange for you to get an invite and you can make up your own mind.’
True to her word, an invitation arrived the following week. The envelope had a wax seal with the letters MR on top of a duelling pistol, very Martin Rogers.
Dear Elizabeth. You are invited to a hair raising Costume and Cocktail party at the country home of Martin Rogers. Bring your imagination, curiosity and spirit and I promise you a frighteningly good time.
I thought it a strange invitation, but then Martin was known for his quirky, ostentatious ways. I asked myself why he would have chosen Salem as his ’country home’. There were so many nicer places out of Boston. One haunted with witches didn’t appeal to me. All the same, I was curious. I’d talk to Kate.
‘Roger’s into witches, and he sees the humour in the name.’
I was taken aback at the thought of witchcraft, but nothing that man did would surprise me.
‘He really is, Elizabeth, but don’t let it put you off you’ll have a great time.’
I decided to accept the invitation but felt a bit spooked and wondered if I should ask this witch loving show-off if I could bring a friend. It would be nice to have Kate with me.
‘There’s no need for that,’ Kate re-assured me, ‘there’ll be plenty of others there.’ I believe Ryan Stephens is going. You know him?’
Of course I knew Ryan, we went back some years and my heart still leapt when I heard his name.
Kate must have read my mind. ‘You might rekindle an old friendship?’
I didn’t answer her directly; instead I shook my head. But he’d be there and that was enough.
I sent my reply and within two days a letter came with directions for how to get to Roger Martin’s place.
‘Upon your arrival at Salem main station, a carriage will await you. Dress theme? Let your imagination run wild.’
I laughed at Roger’s theatrics. But that didn’t make it any easier for me to work out what to wear to the ‘hair-raising night’ that was promised. In the end, I decided that Glinda, the ‘witch of the north’ from The Wizard of Oz, would not only be acceptable to me but was easily found in costume shops. I was happy with what I saw in the mirror before I left to catch the train from Boston South station.
‘Look, Mama, there’s Glinda the witch,’ a little girl cried in delight when she sat down opposite me. A smile lit up her face.
I found myself waving my wand in her direction, and then pulled it back in embarrassment when two teenage girls began to snigger. I wished I’d brought something bigger than an evening bag so I could stash it away before I drew more attention to myself.
It was early evening when the train pulled into Salem. The night was clear and the emerging myriad of stars promised a lovely evening. I looked up to the sky and inhaled deeply.
‘Out for a little walk … in the moonlight, are we?”
I jumped at the sound of a male voice coming from behind me.
‘Sorry to frighten you, Miss, but are you attending Mr Roger Martin’s party?’ a Count Dracula asked.
My first instinct was to reproach him for scaring me as he did. However, I thought I’d try out one of the several Glinda lines I’d committed to memory.
"You have no power here! Begone! Before somebody drops a house on you, too!"
The man laughed, and then offered me his hand. ‘I’m Sam, I guess you are going to the party?’
I told him I was.
‘Well then, let me accompany you to your carriage,’ he said as he stood aside to let me through the station doorway onto the street.
There was indeed a carriage complete with coachman dressed in black suit and top hat. Sam helped me inside. As I got my bearings, I looked straight into the eyes of Wicked Witch of the West.
‘Good evening, Glinda, Roger will be pleased.’
We waited a while for a fourth travelling companion, ‘Vlad The Impaler’. Vlad and Dracula exchanged gruesome stories. Horrifying stories actually. Sam must have sensed my discomfort.
‘Is this your first time, Glinda?’
‘It’s tradition to get into your character as soon as you leave the station. Witchy over there will attest to that.’
‘Yes, Dracula,’ she replied,’ but go easy, the young lady isn’t used to our ways.’
A shiver threatened to knock the wind out of my sails. The hand I’d placed on my chest felt about to explode, and I was horrified to feel a stream of water rushing down both sides of my face. If this was what the evening would be like, I wished I could turn the carriage around and head back to the station. Sam apologised and we made small talk. We were soon driving along a winding track towards our destination.
I wasn’t ready for what loomed large as we drove through a forest of huge gnarled trees that hung over the carriage, like talons. The house appeared so run down that the outer walls were on a lean, vines held up the front façade.
‘Don’t let looks deceive you,’ Sam said, ‘quirky Roger has had the house made to lean like it does, inside it is quite stable.’
I startled at the sound of bats, flying in unison in front of us as if on cue. I looked down and realised I had grabbed Sam’s hand. I pulled mine away quickly. He turned away, a smile on his face, as if he hadn’t noticed.
The carriage pulled up outside the large, imposing house and the coachman jumped down and came to the side of the carriage to open the door. As I looked into his face I noticed that his two front teeth had been chiselled into a point and one had what looked like a diamond shining in the by now brilliant moonlight. He took my hand and as he did I saw that his nails were painted black. With that and his long greasy locks he looked the part.
Roger Martin was at the top of the front steps to greet us.
‘Ah, Elizabeth or should I say Glinda, it’s so good of you to come,’ he waved the other three inside, ‘let me show you around before the moon fades.’
It would have been rude of me to decline his invitation so I took his arm and we went back down the steps and to one side of the house.
‘I’m sorry there is no yellow brick road for you, but come and see what I have in store.’
‘Mind your step,’ he said as I slipped on large, mossy stones that formed a path to the back of the house.
Fortunately, the sound of chatter inside the house helped me to endure the slimy cobwebs and persistent bat screeching. Roger didn’t seem to think anything of it, he rattled on about the ‘improvements’ he’d made to the house since he’d taken it over from his father.
‘It’s a world apart from my Boston apartment and that’s how I like it,’ he said as he pushed away wandering vines and took me across the yard to the pool area where a group of ‘revellers’ were in full swing, literally, as they carried lanterns and danced around a roaring fire chanting in some sort of witchcraft ritual.
Whether it was because of the cold or out of sheer terror I was scared about what the night would bring. I began to shiver uncontrollably, losing my wand as I did so. Roger bent down and picked up the thin piece of stick that I’d covered in pink ribbon and placed a star on the end. He laughed.
‘Well we’ve never had a pink wand here before, not really our genre if you get my gist.’
I felt humiliated.
‘I think I’d like to go inside, Roger.’
We turned towards the house. As we passed another group of invitees, I noticed Vlad and the Witch joining in what appeared to be a game of ring - a – rosy. I hurried Roger along.
‘It’s always wonderful at full moon,’ Roger said oblivious to my terror.
I waited for a dog to howl but that didn’t happen. Then I jumped at the sight of a huge black Rottweiler blocking my way up the back steps.
‘Come on, Lucifer, let the lady through,’ Roger urged, ‘go get your bone.’
With that the dog, took off and apart from nearly knocking me back down the steps, left gooey slobber down the front of my dress. The night was going from bad to very bad.
We went inside to what appeared a fairly normal interior. I needed some space so I asked Roger to show me to the bathroom. As he did he indicated towards a doorway halfway down a long hall.
‘I’ll meet you in through there, Glinda,’ he said as we parted.
As soon as I got through the bathroom door I leant against the wall and breathed heavily. It was a very elegant bathroom with a chaise lounge in one corner and gold tap fittings. I flopped onto the chair and waited for my heart to stop pounding. Once I’d regained my composure, I fixed my makeup and hair and gingerly opened the door. The hallway had very high ceilings with ornate architraves and what I supposed were very expensive paintings dotted along the walls. I hesitated in front of one, trying to bide a little more time before I had to face who knows what. I’d taken long enough so I set off towards the doorway into what turned out to be the living room. I entered. I was taken aback as not one person in that room was dressed in costume. I scanned the room for Ryan Stephens. He was over in a far corner talking to a group of women. He saw me, nodded and turned his back on me.
My eyes dropped, I felt humiliated. Perhaps Roger had seen it all because he came across and took my hand. He was a gentleman, I had to give him that. He cleared his throat.
‘Everyone, I’d like you to meet Elizabeth Hansen, or Glinda if you’d prefer.’
A general muttering of ‘hello Glinda’, ‘evening Elizabeth’ and the likes ensued.
He took me across to a group of about five people one of whom was Sam, now resplendent in black tie and tails. If the others in the group were surprised to see me in costume they didn’t show it.
‘You look like you need this,’ Sam said as he took a glass of champagne from the tray offered him and handed it to me, ‘sorry if I’ve confused you, Elizabeth, my Dracula costume is just that. I wear it when I go to the station to pick up guests. Dad likes it that way.’
Dad? Was he talking about Roger? He certainly was because within a matter of minutes Roger made a grand entrance, also dressed in black tie and tails. He came over to us.
‘Ah, I see you two have found each other,’ he said as he patted Sam on the back, 'now how about we all go into dinner?’
A butler opened two large, heavy oak doors to reveal a grand dining room. Heavy red velvet curtains were pulled back from floor to ceiling windows that opened out onto a resplendent balcony. It overlooked a side of the house that had nothing at all in common with what Roger had walked me through earlier on. A showpiece walnut table set so elaborately as if in one of Roger’s television productions, took centre place.
Each seat had a place name, but Sam seemed to know where mine was. He ushered me to a place next to him. I hadn’t had time to fully take in the grandeur of the room before Sam was pointing out his father’s impressive art works lining the walls for the length of the room. Abstract pieces by Kandinsky and Miro sat side by side with a Picasso and a Frida Kahlo.
Sam watched me staring at them wide eyed.
‘So you like art, Elizabeth? Those belonged to my grandfather, heaven knows Dad and I could never afford such works but we have a few nice pieces of our own that I’d be happy to show you after dinner.’
I agreed that was a lovely idea but I was aware of the time slipping by and we hadn’t started eating. The last train back to Boston left at ten-thirty, just one hour and thirty minutes away.
‘Don’t worry about that, Elizabeth, our man can drive you back.’
It was as if this had all been stage-managed. Perhaps Roger had planned all along for Sam and me to get together. I was confused.
‘Sam, what is actually happening here? There’s things going on outside, it was frightening, but look at all this, it’s hard to take in.’
‘You know what dad’s like. Anything for a laugh, it’s all theatre, Elizabeth. Those people outside are from the village. Dad lets them use a section if the property for their celebrations. Tonight is The Witches Circle; there are other nights during the year. As a sign of respect, Dad and I dress up, it works both ways, Dad gets a chance to indulge himself without the press butting in and the witches have a perfect place to celebrate. If I took you into the other side of the house you’d be amazed. I suppose you could say that the three rooms on that side are a museum to witchcraft. Dad opens it on special occasions but I try to stay out of it as much as possible.
I looked at my watch; it was nine forty-five.
‘I’d really like to catch the ten-thirty train, Sam.’
‘You don’t want our man to take you? It would be a pity, Elizabeth because I haven’t had a chance to show you around. It’s lovely out on the balcony under the full moon. Won’t you have another champagne?’
I started to protest then stopped. I had missed my chance with Ryan Stephens, and the thought of sipping champagne with Sam Rogers allayed any fears I had about witches and bats and Lucifer the Rottweiler. It was turning out to be a thoroughly pleasant evening.