The meeting took place over a little campfire in the middle of a circle-shaped clearing, surrounded by trees. The fire flickered, illuminating the green, warty faces of the four witches that stood around it. One of them, the one named Gwendolyn, prodded the logs at the bottom of the fire with a long stick.
“Let this meeting of the Witches of Liberty begin,” Beatrice said. She was the shortest one and was wearing an almost comically tall, crooked hat, much taller than any of the other witches' hats, so that she would still have the appearance of towering over the others.
“We’ve been using this same plan for so long, every Halloween for so long,” Gwendolyn complained, “yet nothing has changed.” Her voice was high and scratchy.
“Silence, Gwenny,” Beatrice said. “Today is different. I can feel it. We’re going to succeed this time.”
Allegra, the third of the four witches, best described by her long, greasy hair, sat cross-legged on the forest floor, a black cat in her lap. She stroked him thoughtfully and he purred, a low rumbling sound from deep inside his throat. Her thick eyebrows were furrowed in thought.
“Oh, Beatrice. There is absolutely nothing special about this time.” The last witch, Cordella, said. She was the wartiest, and the only one who specialized in potions. This was because potions often included using innocent children’s blood or bones, which none of the rest wanted to do. “If we just used my plan, everything would be fine.”
Allegra rolled her eyes.
“We decided that we’re not doing that, Cordella,” she said.
“Sorry, Cordella.” Beatrice smiled fondly at Cordella, but her gaze sharpened when she turned to the others.
“You all know the plan.” Her sentences were now clipped and cold, the result of attempting to cover up her nervousness.
Gwendolyn nodded. “I think we should-”
“Shush, Gwenny. Our plan is fine,” Cordella interrupted. “We even have a megaphone this time, thanks to me.” Their biggest accomplishment from last year was when Cordella had snuck up behind a police officer and grabbed his megaphone from his belt. Gwendolyn fell silent, and Allegra shot her a quick look of sympathy. Allegra stood up, dumping the black cat to the floor. He yowled and stalked into the thick trees surrounding them.
“Sorry ‘bout that, Jinx,” Allegra called mournfully, staring after him. She turned back to the others. Her voice lowered, and her face became hard and stern. “Let’s go. Bea, adjourn the meeting.”
“It’s Beatrice,” Beatrice growled. “No nicknames. And don’t order me around.” Gwendolyn handed her the long stick she had been using for the fire, and Beatrice banged it thrice on the ground. “This meeting of the Witches of Liberty has been adjourned.”
The shadows of the trees danced across their faces as the four witches exchanged eye contact.
So, approximately five minutes later, the witches took deep breaths, tried to stifle their nerves, and left their forest for the first time in a year. The last time they had left their forest was the previous Halloween, where they were narrowly spared from discovery after a little boy asked Gwendolyn what face paint she used to make her face green. She had hesitated a little too long, creating suspicion, and they had decided to make a run for it.
This time, they departed the forest considerably more prepared than the last time. Each had a plastic pumpkin-shaped candy basket hanging on their forearms. Beatrice’s had the aforementioned megaphone inside of it.
“Last time won’t happen again,” Beatrice said as they walked towards the houses. “We got our face paint from Chick-fil-a, and our warts from Whole Foods. Got it?”
“Whole Foods?” Cordella said. “Why would we get our warts from a place that sells food?” She thought a bit, stroking her chin with a long, green finger. “Chick-fil-a sounds realistic for the face paint, though.”
“That’s right, Whole Foods is a bit off.” Beatrice chuckled. “You’ve got brains Cordella, you. Let’s say the warts are from….Rick’s Sporting Goods. I think I saw a sign for that last time.”
“Perfect,” Cordella agreed. Gwendolyn raised a finger to object.
“That doesn’t make much sense. Rick’s Sporting Goods?”
Beatrice waved her off. She, like Cordella, disregarded anything that Gwendolyn had to say.
Allegra stayed quiet. She knew that Beatrice did not stand for anyone but Cordella inserting their opinions on her plans.
They neared closer and closer to the streets and had to stop themselves from looking around in wonder. For the rest, it was a matter of being unsuspicious, but for Allegra, it was something else entirely. She didn’t want to marvel at things that witches deserved as well. She had joined the Witches for Liberty because she wanted out of that dark, dirty little forest and out in the cities, among humans. She didn’t understand why the humans had restricted them to a little piece of land, which was too densely packed with trees to be a satisfactory living space. She didn’t understand why if witches were seen in public, they were harassed and then jailed.
Cordella had wanted to do something else instead. Cordella had wanted mass poisoning.
“We’ll even get people for potions that way. I can make the strong potions that you guys don’t let me make,” She had said. “It makes perfect sense.”
But even Beatrice couldn’t agree to that. Cordella hadn’t taken that very well initially, her most loyal supporter abandoning her.
Dry leaves crunched under the witch’s feet as they reached the streets. Children ran around, boasting fairy wings, onesies, and pirate hats. There was one kid dressed as a unicorn, and another as a mummy. Gwendolyn spotted a kid dressed in black robes, with a little lion patch over the chest, round glasses, and a small fake scar on his forehead. She wondered who he was pretending to be. The houses were all squished together with barely any space between them, and they all had an old, worn-down look to them.
“Cordella, you have the speed potion, right? Just in case?” Allegra said.
Cordella opened up her robes to show the silver glint of the metal flask nestled in the right inside pocket.
“Good.” Allegra nodded.
“Let’s spread out,” Beatrice hissed. “Act normal. We show our true identities only after we’ve shown everyone how kind and normal and human-like we are.” The other witches nodded subtly, and they went their separate ways.
Beatrice knocked on the door to a cute white house, after seeing many other children do the same. She fit in perfectly with the crowd, her head aligning with the older children’s but her hat towering far above them. The door swung open.
“Treat or trick!” She sang, in what she hoped was an innocent, childish voice. The woman answering the door looked at Beatrice curiously, but Beatrice couldn’t understand why. She had an afro of bright red hair and was wearing a little red ball on her nose.
“Why, hello dear!” the woman said and held out a black fake cauldron full of candy. Beatrice hesitated, then grabbed a handful and moved to stuff it in her plastic pumpkin.
“Only one! Don’t you know the rules?” The woman scolded. “That’s not very nice of you. Leave some for the other children!” The woman bent over to grab the candy from Beatrice’s hands, and when she did, she looked up closely at Beatrice’s face. She paused and then straightened.
“My, my,” she chuckled. “That makeup is fantastic! Almost as if you were a real witch! You even managed to look old!” she lowered her voice. “Thank goodness you aren't. I hate real witches." She looked Beatrice up and down. “Good thing you aren’t one.” She smiled.
It took all the self-restraint that Beatrice consisted of to not slap the woman across the face. Instead, she smiled back at the woman, curling her hands into tight fists.
“Thank you, miss,” Beatrice said. “I have to go. It was nice meeting you.” She turned around and practically ran off the porch and back to the street, where she disappeared into the surging crowd of people.
Meanwhile, Cordella was trying her best to walk unsuspiciously down the street. However, she did not seem to fit in as well as Beatrice did. She was tall and might’ve passed for a parent, but she didn’t have any children with her and kept mimicking the children instead of the parents, under Beatrice’s orders. She tried her best, though, and most people averted their gaze from her after only a moment or two. Overexcited parents weren’t that uncommon, after all. But one little girl, dressed in a batwoman suit, took an interest in Cordella.
“Excuse me?” She tugged on Cordella’s sleeve. Cordella snatched her sleeve out of the little girl's sticky, chocolate-covered fingers.
“What?” Cordella snarled, thinking of how this little girl would be perfect for the forgetfulness potion she was currently trying to master. She was about to reach for the girl when she remembered what Beatrice had said.
If you want this plan to work, you have to be nice, especially you, Cordella. Don’t take any children, you’re in the middle of a crowded street, after all, and smile at people a lot.
The girl reeled back at the harsh way Cordella had spoken, but shook it off and continued.
“I like your face paint. Can you teach me? Where did you buy it from?”
“Chick-fil-a,” Cordella said roughly. “And where are your parents? You’re not supposed to talk to strangers.
“Chick-fil-a?” The girl shook her head. Her brown curls bounced up and down. “That’s not right.”
Cordella didn’t know what to do. Her mind was racing.
“Yes, it is,” Cordella said. “Go away.”
“You’re mean, like a real witch,” the girl said.
Cordella gulped. She imagined how furious the other witches would be if she messed up their plans.
“No, I’m not!” Cordella’s voice was suddenly sugary-sweet. “I’m nice!”
Cordella was thrown off by that answer but made an effort not to show it. She smiled nervously at the girl.
“What about your warts? Where did you get those?”
“Whole Foods,” Cordella said, forgetting that she herself had told Beatrice that this wouldn’t be realistic. A woman passing by, with a little spiderman resting on her hip, glanced at Cordella oddly.
“I must go,” Cordella said hastily and walked on, leaving the little girl behind.
Gwendolyn was doing considerably better than Beatrice and Cordella. She had already had a couple of conversations: one with a woman and one with a little boy.
When she had approached the woman, she had smiled and said, “Handful you got there, huh?” and then nodded at the woman’s two wriggling children.
“Yup,” the woman had sighed. She was sweating, some of her hairs plastered to her forehead. “My husband has the other two.”
“There are more?!”
The woman had sighed again. “Yeah, there are more. We weren’t expecting two pairs of twins.” She laughed half-heartedly. “Well, have a nice day. Your makeup looks really good!”
“Have a nice day,” Gwendolyn had said, a bit rattled by the makeup comment.
The little boy had only stopped by to comment on her warts.
“I like your warts, miss,” the boy had said, pointing at Gwendolyn’s face as if to inform everyone that that was where the warts were. “I almost thought you were a real witch!”
Allegra, like Gwendolyn, was doing well.
She was walking along the side of the road when an old man noticed her. The old man had shaken his cane at her from the plastic chair he was sitting on, in the middle of his yard.
“Thought you were a real witch, yes I did!” He croaked at her. Allegra was momentarily taken aback but overcame it quickly, and swiftly crafted a good reply.
“Thank you, sir!” She said, hoping this would make him believe that he had been complimenting rather than accusing her. She quickly hurried to leave his sight.
The witches met 30 minutes after they had separated in front of the house at the end of the small but heavily-populated street like they had planned.
“How did it go?” Cordella asked. “I think I did great, but a mass poisoning would have been much easie-”
“No, Cordella. We’re not harming anyone,” Gwendolyn interrupted. Gwendolyn interrupted. Everyone turned and gaped at Gwendolyn, who was standing firmly, her arms crossed.
“Gwennie,” Cordella scoffed. “You can’t possibly think that you kno-”
“I’ve never approved of you harming people for your potions, Cordella.” Gwendolyn practically spat the last words. Allegra smiled behind her hands. She had been waiting for this, for Gwendolyn to finally stand up for herself. But now was not the time.
“Girls," Beatrice scolded. “Not. Now.” She pulled the megaphone out of her candy basket. The white and red colors stood out sharply from the midnight black of her robes. She fumbled with it a little, trying to get it to work, while the other three witches watched her anxiously.
“Is this- is this thing-ah, yes.” Her voice boomed across the street. “Everyone, look over here! I have an anooouuuncemeeeenttt!”
The street went quiet, save for the occasional hoot of a far-off owl or cry of a small child.
Beatrice raised her hands above her head. “Remember us? The kind, loving humans you encountered at some point?” Several people in the crowd nodded, while others jostled to get in front to see the action.
“Well, we’re real witches!” She said. “See? We’re normal! There’s nothing to be afraid of!”
The crowd was silent for a split-second as the crowd processed this, but then broke into chaos and angry shouts.
“Witches!” A man roared. “Get. Them. OUT of my neighborhood!”
Children sobbed into their parent’s arms.
Many other people were yelling the same. Gwendolyn yelled for Cordella in fright, overlooking their argument, but nobody could hear each other over the noise. Hands grabbed at their cloaks, ripping the silky fabric. The sound of people yelling was deafening, vibrating through the street, bouncing off houses and fences, and followed by echoes of more shouts joining in. Gwendolyn started crying, terrified tears rolling down her face.
Allegra, always the quick thinker, grabbed her three friends’ hands and ran towards the woods, jumping over curbs and squeezing between houses, just as the people started running for them, led by a particularly furious woman in a witch costume.
They eventually lost their followers and slowed to a walk. Gwendolyn sniffled, Allegra glared at the ground, and Cordella went out of her way to kick every rock she saw. Beatrice and Cordella were still holding hands, Beatrice attempting to drag Cordella away from the rocks. They didn’t talk for a while until Beatrice finally spoke. Her voice was defeated and husky like she was trying not to cry.
“We will try again next year.”
“Ok,” Gwendolyn agreed.
And they would. The four witches, with torn robes and knotted black hair, dirt streaking their green, bumpy faces, walked back to their forest, where they would wait for one more year and then try again. And again. And again.
30 years later, when they were all old women, frail and thin, hair grey instead of black, they would get their freedom. Witches around the world would celebrate. The Witches of Liberty would triumph like they had always believed they would.