Malinda took a deep breath as she surveyed the scene. It was the first time she’d been elected to organize the annual Hallowe’en witches’ convention, the one time of year when witches can meet, living and dead, across time and distance. She took the responsibility extremely seriously. She’d found the perfect location, a ruined, desolate and remote mansion. It was situated high on a bleak hillside, making it easy to spot from the air. Perfect for landing a broomstick. The weather was ideal, frosty and clear except for the odd cloud scudding across the full moon.
She looked around the great hall. Its elegant proportions were still evident despite the decay. Tattered curtains flapped in the empty windows. Cobwebs festooned the skeletal remains of the great, crooked chandelier. The remains of silk wall coverings drooped in shreds, almost but not quite, disguising the pale squares and rectangles where pictures had once hung. Dark, abstract blotches of damp and mold disfigured the chubby cherubs and garlands of the plaster ceiling. A cozy fire burned in the grate of the Italian marble fireplace which had somehow survived both time and vandals. Candles flickered and glowed in glass containers, sending fantastic shapes dancing into the shadowy corners of the room. Quite atmospheric, Malinda thought with satisfaction.She looked over at the table. It was covered with a snowy white tablecloth and groaned under the weight of dishes and bottles. Crystal and china sparkled in the candlelight. All that was missing were the guests. Malinda went through the French windows onto the stone terrace and gazed upwards. She could just discern a few specks in the dark sky, gradually getting larger as they approached. She called to Hilaria who had been assisting at these events for ever.
“Better get the drinks ready. These girls are going to be thirsty after their journey.”
“Think they’ll want wing of bat and eye of newt elixir?”
“You’re kidding. Strong cocktails and wines if past experience is anything to go by.”
Hilaria cackled, pulling her tattered shawl around her humped shoulders as she began lining up bottles and glasses. Malinda jumped back as the first figure swooped past her. Others followed, some landing more gracefully than others.
“Park your brooms here,” she called as the witches dismounted and streamed past her into the house, one or two followed by their black cats. There was a thud, followed by a yelp. Malinda sighed. Old Dorothea overshot the runway every year, but stubbornly refused to give up flying. She grinned cheekily at Malinda as she dusted herself off.
“Been flying since 1617 and never had an accident.”
“No telling how many you’ve caused,” said Malinda, with mock severity, following her into the house. When everyone had drinks, Malinda rapped on her glass with a fork.
“Here’s to us, from the past and present, looking to the future,”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Dorothea, swigging from a bottle of ale. “I’m hungry. When do we eat?”
“Love this place,” said Ginny. “What’s the story here?”
“Old Sir Reginald went mad and killed his much younger wife here when he found out she’d been cavorting with the gardener. She’s supposed to haunt the place, so the locals avoid it, though I’d say a teenager or two comes as a dare,” Malinda said, indicating graffiti on the walls.
“Perfect,” said Ginny. “Let’s just hope no one decides to renovate it on one of those television reality makeover shows. It’s getting harder and harder to find a good location.”
“Humph,” said Dorothea, busily piling her plate. “Don’t know what a television is, but you youngsters don’t know how easy you have it. In my day, we worry about being thrown in the pond to see if we sink or float. Came close to being burned at the stake myself a time or two.”
Much as she wanted to avoid one of Dorothea’s rants, Malinda frowned as some of the younger witches rolled their eyes.
“Let us acknowledge the dangers we have faced throughout the centuries. We did not choose to be born with our gifts of clairvoyance, healing and magic, but have too often been persecuted because of them, even though we use our gifts for the good. This is the one night when we are safe from human eyes. We owe a debt to Dorothea and those who have suffered so much in the past.”
The younger witches looked abashed. Dorothea smiled with satisfaction as she shuffled off with her plate to sit next to her friend Hester in the corner. Despite their century age difference, they always enjoyed catching up on gossip.
“However,” said Malinda, “We do have a few issues on the agenda. Let’s get to work. A pressing matter is these New Agers advertising crystals and spells. They’re giving us a bad name.”
“Not to mention these charlatans and frauds offering love potions and curses in the classifieds,” said Ginny. “There’s no truth in advertising there.”
“Is anyone else having a terrible time getting a good quality broom?” asked Hilaria. “These new ones are dangerous and barely last a flight.”
“They make great brooms in my time,” said Hester. “We’ll bring one for you at the next meeting.”
Having concluded the business part of the agenda, some began to sing, mellow with food and drink. The cats circled the table, rubbing against legs and occasionally hissing at each other as they squabbled over scraps. Absorbed in the scene, Malinda jumped as someone grabbed her arm.
“Don’t alarm the others, but I think I hear something outside,” Ginny whispered. “You’re sure no one can see us?”
“Not unless we choose to reveal ourselves,” said Malinda. “Let’s see what’s going on.”
They slipped out onto the terrace. A group of teenage boys were jostling each other amid much raucous laughter in the driveway below.
“You go first.”
“Naw, not me.”
“Wait, I see lights up there.”
“You’re tripping, man.”
“No, he’s for real. Look!”
Silence fell as they looked up at the flickering candlelight in the windows.
“This could be tricky,” said Malinda. “I forgot that the lights could be seen.”
The boys huddled and whispered. Finally, they pushed a tall, strapping young man forward. He wound up and launched a beer bottle onto the terrace just as Dorothea and Hester were emerging unsteadily from the house. It shattered at their feet.
“What the…” said Dorothea. “It’s like those hooligans who threaten us with a ducking at home.”
“Some things never change,” Hester said. She and Dorothea looked at each other, a glint in their eyes.
“Wait, keep yourselves invisible,” said Malinda urgently.
“We’ve done that for centuries, “said Dorothea. “We’re in the mood for fun tonight. Come on, sister!”
She and Hester grabbed brooms and took off, zooming in erratic circles until they gained enough height to swoop down at the boys. Malinda shook her head and covered her eyes.
“I can’t look.”
“You should,” said Ginny, doubled over with laughter. “Look at those old girls go.”
Cackling like maniacs, clearly visible in the moonlight, Dorothea and Hester pursued the boys down the driveway, chasing those who tried to break away as if they were herding cattle. The boys’ yells of terror faded into the distance as they scrambled to escape. Dorothea and Hester returned at a leisurely pace, shrieking with laughter as they approached. Dorothea skidded down the terrace and tumbled off her broom as usual. Malinda and Ginny ran over to help her up.
“Don’t know if I land better when I’m sober or drunk,” she said with a grin.
Before Malinda could retort, they were interrupted by loud applause and whistling. The assembled witches were lining the terrace and cheering. Dorothea and Hester bowed before the admiring crowd, happily accepting drinks and hugs.
Malinda sighed with relief. She glanced up at the moon.
“It will be time to go soon. We couldn’t have asked for a better finale.”
“You can say that again. Here’s to next year!” said Ginny, as they linked arms and joined the party.