They followed Agatha into the woods, with the last light of summer warding them from the threat of September. Nina endlessly ran her tongue along her new braces, still unable to get used to their feel. Rick huffed as he shambled, balancing the awkward one-legged wooden table under one arm, and the big brass bowl under the other. Dennis frowned and kept glancing over his shoulder, certain he had heard rustling in the foliage. Katie hugged herself and shivered, even though it was still warm enough to be called a warm day.
And Agatha marched with secret purpose. She had a plan. For all of them.
Katie was first to stop, in a small clearing surrounded by birches. “Where are we going?” This stupid game had gone on too long. They were supposed to have gone for ice cream, not this bush tromping.
“Yeah, Gathy,” said Dennis, never more than a handhold’s length from Katie. “Where are we going? This is stupid.”
Agatha turned around, slowly. Gathy. How she despised that nickname. Her two Wednesday Addams braids swayed like the ropes of a gallows, and her oversized Judas Priest hoodie shaded her pale face. Her hoodie now, though this morning it had belonged to her older brother Kent.
Her backpack sagged when she slid it off and set it on the well-trodden path, and the first fallen leaves crunched under its weight.
“We’re in Centennial Park.”
“Yeah, duh,” said Dennis. “We know that. But where are we going?”
“Yeah, Agie,” said Nina. “You said you had something awesome to show us. Is it a dead body?”
“Oh my gosh!” said Katie, covering her mouth.
Agatha couldn’t resist the slightest of smiles. “No. It’s better.”
“Well, tell us,” said Dennis. “And stop scaring Katie.”
“I’m not scared.”
Agatha remained silent, just staring at each of her friends in turn, until they looked away and quieted down. Then she said, “Very well. The Coven has a right to know.”
“Oh cool!” said Nina. “I didn’t know we were still doing that.”
“We’re not,” said Dennis. “There’s no covens in high school.”
“Um,” said Rick, setting down the table since everyone stopped walking and apparently they were all taking a break. “We’re not in high school yet.”
“Yeah,” said Nina. “Stop being lame, Dennis.”
“Whatever.” Dennis shook his head. “Where are we going?”
“We’re going to a secret place in these woods.” Agatha paused for dramatic effect. “A place of great power, where the ley lines cross and double back. A place where time stands still.” She drew it out even more. Katie’s eyes kept widening and Dennis rolled his, but Nina and Rick were grinning.
“Gosh!” Katie quivered, again covering her mouth with both hands. “There’s no such thing!” she whispered. Then she turned to Dennis and tugged at his tee-shirt. “Is there?”
“No, there isn’t, Katie. Don’t worry. Gathy’s just lying.”
Agatha scowled at him. “It’s true.”
“No, it isn’t,” said Dennis. “And anyway, what would we do there? You said you were going to show us something cool.”
“I am. We’re going to cast a spell.”
“Cool!” said Nina, at the same time Katie gasped yet again.
“There’s no such thing as spells,” said Dennis, “and you’re not a real witch. And this isn’t a real coven.”
Agatha smiled cruelly. “Oh ye of little faith.”
“Magic isn’t real. People can’t really cast spells.”
“Why do we need to go to… um…” Rick began, and then whispered the last bit, afraid that by voicing it he might give it life, “Satan’s Door?”
Agatha took a moment to ponder it. She needed the Coven there, but she could see she was losing them. Katie had always been the weak link, ever afraid of her own shadow, and now Dennis followed her around everywhere like a whole bag of gross. They might not come along if she didn’t give them something, but everyone knew magic lost its power if you had to explain it.
Maybe just a taste, then.
“Dennis is right,” she said, and when Dennis arched an eyebrow, she added, “Kinda.” She started pacing around her backpack, mentally counting the steps. Expanding her circle, timing it, so it would be exactly thirteen steps. “Humans can’t just cast magic spells. That’s true. If it weren’t, more people would do it. The fact is we need help, and I know someone who can help us.”
“Who?” asked Dennis. Katie just clamped her hands over her mouth even tighter.
“A demon that lives here. His name is Mr. Crowley. He waits on Satan’s Door. And,” she paused again, drawing it out, “he can speak with the dead.”
Katie let out a muffled mewl, a fear run so ragged it was coming apart at the seams.
“You’re lying,” said Dennis. “There’s no such thing as demons.”
“He owes me a favour,” said Agatha.
“No, he doesn’t, because he’s not real.”
“He’s going to help us cast a spell.” She stopped, unzipped her backpack with a deliberate tug. “He’s going to help us brew a potion.” The zipper parted like skin splitting on an overripe fruit.
“No, he isn’t,” Dennis insisted, though his voice was a little airy. “What is that? What’s in there?”
“Ingredients.” She took a four litre-milk jug out of her backpack, only whatever dark liquid hid within its frosted plastic carapace certainly was no milk.
“What is that?” Dennis repeated at a whisper.
She held the jug up for all to see. It was heavy enough for both hands, and it sloshed lethargically with her every movement. “Blood,” she said. “It’s blood.”
Katie was melting down, her red eyes tearing up. Dennis tried to push through her blubbering to calm her.
“Oh my gosh,” said Nina. “Is that really blood?”
Agatha nodded severely. “It’s werewolf blood.”
“Werewolf?” said Rick.
“Yes,” said Agatha. The cat was out of the bag, but so be it. They were a Coven. They were in this together. “It’s for the spell. Mr. Crowley is going to help us brew a magical potion that will turn us into werewolves. Then we’ll be together forever in” – she frowned, trying to remember the lyrics from her older brother Ian’s CD – “nocturnal rapport.”
“There’s no such thing!” Katie wailed, pointing a shaky finger at Agatha and wiping her snotty face with the other hand. “You’re a liar, Agatha! You’re a bully!”
Agatha rolled her eyes. Why, she wondered not for the first time, do we hang out with her? Katie had been cool once, but she changed – just like everyone and everything else. Deep within her, the memories of the past slammed into the reality of the now and a bitter spark shot out. It fell on a pile of desiccated frustration, where it gave birth to a cruel flame. Katie was afraid of everything, and fear was for the weak. Fear was weakness.
Agatha rummaged in her backpack again. She pulled something out, ignoring Katie’s wailing and Dennis’s pontificating, and then with a deft movement, she drew her kris from its sheath.
A sudden hush fell on everyone else, and their eyes were drawn to the wavy knife in her hand – the blade catching the sun. Agatha marvelled at it too. The steel, polished to a mirror sheen; the handle, wrapped with leather that perfectly fit her hand; the handguard, a pair of intricately grotesque harpies holding the blade between them. Her kris was a thing of wonder. Her kris, though yesterday it had been her older brother Dylan’s. He wasted it on stupid things like LARPing – and anyway, it wasn’t really stealing. Her brothers had taught her long ago that if you didn’t lock something up and hide it, it was fair game.
She raised the kris high and their eyes followed it. “Mr. Crowley requires a sacrifice.” With deft flicks of her hand, she lowered the blade and then pointed it directly at Katie.
Katie’s eyes widened until they couldn’t widen any more. Then she gasped, turned, and sprinted away, wailing the whole time.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Dennis said, and then he sprinted after Katie, calling her name.
The cruel fire was snuffed out by a sudden downpour of remorse. “It was a joke!” Agatha called, but either Dennis and Katie didn’t hear her, or they didn’t care.
“Aw man,” said Nina. “I like playing witches, but you really went too far this time, Agie.” She shook her head.
“You gotta grow up,” Nina said. Then she started marching after the other two.
Nina just marched faster.
Agatha growled and shivered with anger. She sheathed the kris and then tossed it on the ground, and then stalked to the other end of the clearing where she kicked a stone.
She hugged herself until her rage-fueled trembling abated. Everything was ruined. She had screwed it all up again. Just couldn’t get anything right lately.
“Shit,” she hissed, and then knuckled a tear. Summer was almost over and the Coven was broken. Everything was broken. Nothing would ever be good again.
“Agatha?” Rick asked.
She startled, quickly wiped the rest of her tears away. “You’re still here?” She sniffed a final time, took a steadying breath. “Why? Why didn’t you leave with the others?”
Rick didn’t answer, just looked at the table he’d been lugging around. The table Agatha made him lug around, because it was too heavy for her.
“Katie ruins everything,” she muttered. “She’s such a wet blanket.”
“Come on,” he said. “You guys are friends.”
“Were. She didn’t even invite me to her birthday this year.”
Rick cocked his head. “You were at camp.”
“Whatever. That’s not the point. She’s changed. Everyone’s changed.”
Rick set the brass bowl down on the table, realizing now with a shiver that it was probably meant for the blood.
“Why do you want to be a werewolf?”
Agatha crossed her arms, jut out her chin.
“Because,” she said, then she bit her lip. “Because I don’t want to be me.”
Rick frowned. “Why not?”
“Because!” She started pacing around the clearing again. “Because everyone is changing! Because we’re going to high school next week! Because we have to date and get driving licences and go to parties and I don’t know if I’ll get invited to any! Because I don’t know if I’ll stand out or fit in or which one is better or which one I even want! Because college is right around the corner and there’s entrance exams and I have to choose what I want to do with the whole rest of my life and I have no idea what I want!”
She stopped to take a shuddering breath. “Things are so complicated now! I want things to stay how they were. I just wanted us all to become werewolves, and that way… that way at least we could all remain together.” She lowered her hood and ran her hands over her face. “I’m afraid. Of the future. Of… everything. It’s like anything I knew is gone and I’ve lost all control.”
“Well, sure,” said Rick. “Things are changing, and the future’s scary. But it’s also a little exciting, isn’t it? And, come on, it’s not like you’re alone, Agatha. We’re all still friends.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “For now. But it’s a new school, filled with new people. What if that changes? Did you know that Dennis and Katie kissed?”
He nodded. “New people aren’t a bad thing. We didn’t know each other four years ago.”
“I guess so.” She scrunched up her nose. “Thanks, Rick. I guess I maybe overreacted a bit.”
“You said we were going to sacrifice Katie to a demon.”
“I only implied it.” They chuckled and Agatha shook her head. “Oh wow, I really need to apologize to her, don’t I?”
Rick nodded, and then he looked at the milk jug. “Is that really blood?”
“Cherry cola. I let it get flat. I figured we’d celebrate the last weekend. Oh!” She rushed to her bag. “Dylan lent us something for the occasion,” she said, and Rick felt a chill because he knew Agatha's eldest brother wasn't the lending sort. She pulled a can of beer out of the backpack – her beer now – and held it triumphantly aloft.
“Holy crap,” said Rick.
Agatha grinned, but then the grin faded. “Guess I ruined it though.”
“Shouldn’t have any trouble getting into parties at least.”
They both laughed, and the last tension of the previous moments dissipated.
Then they heard a thud, a pop, and a hiss, and the air was suddenly filled with yellow smoke. A shadow loomed within it and then a tall figure emerged from the billowing sulphur. His skin was sanguine red, his eyes jaundiced yellow, and he had two glistening black ram’s horns on his head. His splayed fingers ended in wicked talons and he lunged at the two of them with a growl.
“Mr. Crowley!” Agatha shrieked. “He is real!”
Rick jumped between her and the demon. “Run! RUN!”
She bolted and he stumbled after her, and both of them sprinted away screaming and never once looked back.
Dylan waved the smoke away and took off his customized Darth Maul mask. “Un-believable,” he muttered, picking up his knife and his beer. “Thieving little shit. Can’t leave anything unattended in the madhouse.” Then he rolled his eyes and called out, “And it’s Satan’s call, not door. Get an ear, ya dummy.”
He squinted after them but could no longer see either. Had half a mind to find that Rick kid and give him a proper kicking, because he knew what was up and nobody but nobody was going to go around sniffing after his kid sister. But then again, Rick had put himself between her and harm’s way, so maybe he wasn’t too bad. Maybe the ass-kicking could wait.
He stomped out his homemade smoke bomb before it started a forest fire. His stolen loot recovered and his mission accomplished, Dylan had nothing left to do but go home. He picked up Aunt Melissa’s antique one-legged table and brass bowl with one arm, because they were important to her and probably worth money or filled with memories or whatever. With his other arm, he picked up Agatha’s backpack, because she’d probably learned her lesson and he didn’t want to stress her out too much. And also, it was leverage.