It was Halloween night and the moon was full. Atop a mountain peak, four witches stood around a boiling cauldron. They were the witches of the North, East, South, and West. This gathering had been planned for one-hundred years, and now the poison which had simmered for a century was finally ready.
A vessel was needed in order to administer the poison, and at this critical juncture, the Northern Witch dropped an orange root into the gurgling fluid. She turned to the other witches. "The vessel will be coated in the potion in a few short moments. Is everyone prepared for what we must do tonight?" Her eyes swept the gathering, coming to rest on the Eastern Witch, the youngest of the group. "Are you prepared?" she repeated.
The Eastern Witch was but a child according to witch standards, as she had yet to sprout a single wart upon her small, upturned nose. Alice was new to witchcraft, and she was still startled every time someone addressed her as Eastern Witch. "I am prepared," she muttered weakly.
Alice had been a normal teenager but two years ago, when she had been taken as a disciple by the Eastern Witch. Upon the sudden death of her aged master, she had taken up the mantle and responsibilities of the ancient office of 'Eastern Witch.' The gravest of those responsibilities being to participate in the 'Gathering.' This secret order consisted of the four great witches, whose mission it was to eliminate the great scourge to witch kind.
"It is ready!" said the Northern Witch, levitating the vessel up and out of the cauldron. The root had changed colors, from a dull orange to a metallic gold. It shone even more brightly than the full moon overhead. The Northern Witch stored the vessel in her sleeve, and everyone bowed their heads and muttered a prayer to the gods of fear and evil, both of which were currently at the height of their power. The Northern Witch's voice grew to a crescendo of lamentation. "Allow us to take the monster's life this Hallowed night!" She ended the prayer with a resounding "Amen!" which the other witches echoed.
They leapt upon their brooms and whooshed to the base of the mountain. A cave loomed and the four riders entered without slowing. It was Alice's first journey into the underworld and she rode at the back of the line. Her magic allowed her to see in the inky blackness, and gazing at the cave walls as they blurred past, this underworld entrance appeared much like a borough hewed into the rock by razor sharp claws.
They sped along for hours, twisting, turning, and diving ever deeper, until the path ended. The Northern Witch held up her hand, and the four witches hovered before a barrier. It was white, and the silky smooth texture stood in contrast to the jagged cave walls. The Northern Witch applied a practiced knock on the barrier, as if entering a password. Tap...tap, tap, tap...tap, tap. Suddenly the wall cracked, then collapsed inward like a shell.
The three ancient witches gripped their brooms and flew confidently through the opening. After a moment's hesitation, Alice also gripped her broom and flew through the hole in the wall.
The sunlight was blinding at first. Then, as Alice's eyes grew accustomed, she beheld a small dome-like world stretching out before her. Sunlight trickled from the ceiling, illuminating the vibrant green grass and budding oaks. The smell of spring filled Alice's lungs and suddenly she was a child again, picking hillside flowers with her mother. The other witches began to cough and gag. They covered their large noses and quickly flew toward the center of the small world. Alice followed.
Alice ogled at the strange sights unfolding all around her. Everywhere she looked—rabbits! Rabbits in the meadows, rabbits running along the walls and ceiling, even rabbits perched in the tree-tops. It wasn't the sheer number that shocked her, it was the wicker basket that each rabbit carried from its mouth. If her eyes didn't deceive her, the baskets were full of colorfully painted eggs
The witches halted at the center of the world, where an upraised podium stood. Here, the witches came face to face with a small white rabbit. The creature would have seemed completely ordinary had it not been sitting on its haunches, observing their approach through a monocle. "You are late," it said, checking its gold watch.
"Death is always on time," said the Northern Witch. She reached into her sleeve and pulled out the glowing, golden root, the vessel of the poison.
"A poison-laced carrot? Too cliché," said the rabbit.
The Northern Witch snorted. "Effectiveness is what matters!" She slapped the carrot down in front of the rabbit. "Same rules as always," she said. "You consume our poison. If you die, Easter dies with you. If you live, we agree to ignore your ridiculous holiday for another half-century."
The rabbit picked up the poisoned carrot and turned it over in its paws. "Our wager will be different this year," it said, eying each of the witches carefully.
The rabbit was very strange. Its deep baritone voice contrasted with its size and Alice found it funny. She stifled a giggle as it stared her down.
"Who are you?" it asked Alice.
"I am the Eastern Witch," said Alice, straightening up. "The Eastern Witch that you are probably familiar with was my master."
The rabbit nodded its consent at the change in participants.
"Like I was saying," the rabbit turned back to the three old witches. "Our contest will be different this time. I will risk my life—as always. However, this time, should your methods fail to kill me—the four of you will die instead."
The Western Witch stroked the small patch of hair on her chin. "Why are you changing the rules after three centuries?" she asked the rabbit.
"Ha-ha," the rabbit laughed. "You know exactly why! Since our last meeting, the three of you have defiled my holiday."
"Whatever do you mean?" gasped the Northern Witch.
"Deny it if you want," said the rabbit. "But I know who introduced chocolate to Easter. Kids still like to hunt eggs, but in the current generation, I can't get a single one to eat a boiled egg!" It flourished a fisted paw. "Kids only want chocolate now, and it's all your fault!"
"He-he," the Southern Witch cackled. "It was easy to convince them since boiled eggs are disgusting. In fact, when we were simmering the poison potion, I visited the cauldron once per decade to drop in a boiled egg. I wanted to make sure the potion retained its rancid stench."
The rabbit's red pupils dilated in rage.
The Northern Witch held up her hand. "Before we begin, there must be some changes made to the agreement. Since we will also be gambling our lives tonight, we would like to include curses into the contest."
"That will be acceptable," growled the rabbit.
"Then it’s a deal!" The Northern Witch shook the rabbit's paw.
"I will provide the first curse," said the Southern Witch. She flicked her sleeve and a small mirror appeared, which she handed to the rabbit. "Please break this," she said. The rabbit responded by throwing the mirror to the ground, shattering it into dozens of pieces.
"Seven years bad luck!" The other witches beamed. Their chances of success had increased exponentially with this added curse.
"I will go next," said the Western Witch. She flicked her sleeve and a tall ladder appeared. "Would you please walk under this ladder," the Western Witch asked the rabbit. The rabbit hopped under the ladder and out the other side.
"Thirteen years bad luck!" There was a quick burst of applause from the witches. Even Alice joined in. It was truly an impressive hex.
Alice looked at the Northern Witch expectantly.
The Northern Witch was sneering at the rabbit. She flicked her sleeve and a black cat appeared. "Go, Greased Lightning!" she shouted. The black cat became a blur, and in a blink the cat had crossed the rabbit's path eleven times. The Northern Witch flicked her sleeve again and the cat disappeared. The witches were dumbstruck. The cat had crossed the rabbit's path eleven times, each time adding an additional nine years bad luck. Ninety-nine years bad luck! That was the temporal limit to misfortune!
As Alice stared in dumb silence, a prickling sensation grew in her stomach. It was her turn next. How was she going to follow that act? Maybe they would skip her turn since she was new.
"Should we just skip the rookie?" asked the Southern Witch.
Alice's heart leaped. Please skip me, please skip me, she silently pleaded.
"As a member of this gathering, she will contribute,” said the Northern Witch. “She is Evelyn's successor after all, perhaps she will surprise us."
Alice felt like a lump of wood. She flicked her sleeve and a salt shaker appeared in front of the rabbit. "Could—could you please knock this over?"
The rabbit stared at the salt shaker. "But... it's empty."
Alice gritted her teeth. She was out of salt! It had zero calories, and made salads taste delicious, so she tended to overuse it. She could see the disdain in the other witches' eyes. She couldn't even contribute a small misfortune like spilled salt. "Please knock it over anyway." said Alice.
The rabbit tipped over the empty salt shaker and the silence that followed was deafening.
"I...I curse you to eat your poison, unseasoned?" said Alice.
The Northern Witch shook her head in disgust, then levitated the golden carrot in the rabbit's direction.
The others ignored Alice and gathered around the rabbit to see the effectiveness of their century-brewed poison. Alice just wanted to wait in the background until this was over. She didn't belong here. Her master had called her the 'One,' but she had clearly been mistaken.
The rabbit took a bite from the golden carrot. It chewed very slowly, clicking its tongue. "Mmm," it finally said, "I can taste the boiled egg, and it is delicious."
The four witches trembled as more and more of the carrot disappeared. Finally, the rabbit produced a monogrammed handkerchief and dabbed its mouth. "Delicious, as always," it said. "It would appear that I have once again won our wager."
The rabbit gave a sharp whistle and the world suddenly trembled. Millions of padded feet pounded the ground and a horde of rabbits clustered around the podium. The four witches suddenly found themselves surrounded by an undulating, furry wall, full of sharp claws and bared teeth. "As per our agreement, the four of you will die here," said the rabbit.
The witches reached into their robes and grasped their wands, preparing to fight for their lives. Based on the sheer number of furry monsters, Alice didn't believe they could win.
The rabbit clapped its paws and the growling quieted. "I am not a poor sport, however," said the rabbit. "There are seven eggs scattered across this world, and upon each is painted a golden key." It motioned and four wicker baskets were brought forward. "If you can find those seven eggs within one hour, then I will allow you to leave this world unscathed."
The witches accepted the ridiculous looking baskets with gritted teeth. Alice steeled herself. She wouldn't die here. And she would find at least one egg on her own!
"No, not you!" said the Northern Witch when Alice gripped her basket and followed. "You can stay here, a wartless witch such as yourself would only be a hindrance to us." With a blur, the three senior witches sped out to hunt for eggs, leaving Alice behind on the podium.
It was the rabbit that finally broke the silence. “How long have you been the Eastern Witch?”
Alice hesitated. It felt strange to converse with her soon to be executioner. “About a year,” she said. “Master died of cancer last October.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said the rabbit. “It’s always an awful thing when magic folk die from common ailments. I’m sure Evelyn would have preferred to die at the hands of a corporeal opponent.”
“Master told you her name?” Alice was surprised.
“Of course,” said the rabbit. “We were foes for centuries. We would always have a cup of tea after our challenges.” The rabbit made a gesture and a teapot and some cups were brought forward. “I don’t think that the ritual should die just yet.”
“Thank you,” said Alice as she accepted the piping hot beverage. After a sip, she felt her nerves settling. Hope was not lost! The three greatest witches in the world were searching for the key to escape. Unlike her, those three had the talent to control their own fate.
“You know what would go great with this,” Alice laughed cheerily. From her cloak she pulled a king-size candy bar. “I work from my broom a lot so I tend to keep snacks on hand.” She tore away the wrapper to reveal chocolate and nutty goodness. “I’ve actually gained five pounds since I started this job.”
The rabbit’s whiskers twitched, then its eyes widened violently as it spotted the chocolate bar. “You monster! You brought chocolate?” The rabbit stumbled back, knocking over the China teapot and shattering it into a thousand pieces.
It’s just chocolate, pleaded Alice. She extended the chocolate bar for inspection, but the rabbit didn’t speak, it was now frozen in an icy terror. The wall of snarling rabbits fled the podium squealing.
It was just chocolate, thought Alice. It wasn’t like she was offering poiso—. A recollection suddenly struck her. When she was six, she’d owned a beloved pet rabbit named Mr. Hopkins. But he died one day when she shared her favorite treat with him. The veterinarian had told her that chocolate was toxic for bunnies. However, he’d assured her that any bunny that consumed chocolate would go to heaven.
Surely it couldn’t be that simple, thought Alice. The solution that the great witches had been searching for had been right under their over-sized noses.
Alice quickly snatched up the bunny before it recovered its senses. “Eat it!” said Alice, as she wedged the end of the candy bar between the rabbit’s teeth. She was shaking with excitement as the full potential of this opportunity dawned on her. It wasn’t just about escaping. If she could kill the Easter Bunny, and subsequently Easter, then she would be the most famous witch in the world.
“It won’t hurt,” she whispered assuringly. She felt the bunny’s heart racing. Its watery eyes pleaded with her to just get it over with quickly. Alice began to stroke the rabbit’s fur. It was soft, and made her think of Mr. Hopkins.
She couldn’t do it. She wouldn’t do it!
Alice glared at the rabbit sternly. “I’m going to let you off this time,” she said. “But I have some conditions!”
An hour later, three elderly and very bedraggled witches kneeled before the Easter Bunny pleading for mercy. They had found two of the required seven eggs, and if they could receive a time extension, then they would never again oppose Easter.
“I have been speaking with the Eastern Witch,” said the Easter Bunny. “And I have decided to spare your lives.”
The three witches looked around in confusion, expecting a trick of some kind.
“She has helped me understand the true spirit of Halloween,” said the rabbit. “I never knew how amazing it was! She has also convinced me of chocolate’s superiority over boiled eggs, so from now on I am making chocolate an integral part of Easter.”
The great witches were shocked at this new development and they suddenly looked at Alice like she was a precious gem.
Alice gave the rabbit an encouraging look.
The rabbit ground its teeth and pointed to Alice. “This young witch oozes evil and is the most manipulative creature that I’ve ever met. She should be treasured. Who cares if she doesn’t even have a wart!”
Alice nodded her approval. “I’m glad you’ve seen the light,” she said. “We will be seeing you right on schedule, in exactly fifty years to renew our challenge.
Alice leapt onto her broom. “The full moon is still up,” she said. “If we hurry, we can still enjoy what remains of Halloween night.” Alice glanced at the wicker baskets that the witches still clung to. “Unless the three of you would prefer to stay and continue celebrating Easter.”
The great witches sat the wicker baskets down with great embarrassment, and mounted their brooms.
Alice led the way out of the egg shaped world, her head held high as the senior witches trailed behind. She suddenly felt an itch from her right nostril and upon scratching it, she felt a bump. She caressed the tiny lump growing on her nose. It was her first wart.