Disclaimer: Any resemblance to schools of witchraft & wizardry or to broomsticks or to persons who could remotely be described as having a life is entirely intentional and actionable…..if you dare.
Hey-how for Hallow-e'en!
When all the witches are to be seen,
Some in black and some in green,
Hey-how for Hallow-e'en!
Thout! tout! a tout, tout!
Throughout and about.
(tibbs and alizon trick or treating)
Turning north and west, Tibbs flew low over Cat-Gallows Wood and Scriddles Farm. Ahead lay the dark heart of Bowland Forest where, in olden times, the Om Ren stalked the unwary hunter or shepherd. On a bad day, he would tear them to pieces or perhaps hurl them over a precipice. On a good day and in a fine mood he might be satisfied with uprooting a tree to bash them with.
They had all, even Tibbs, saved many a shepherd from the unwelcome attentions of the Om Ren. He was, after all, at least as thick as a mountain troll and possibly twice as gullible and so presented no threat to a Witch. A simple fuddling spell was usually enough to set him wandering, confused and disorientated with a sour and puzzled expression, back into the depths of the forest. They looked for him more out of habit than anything else for he has not been seen by any of the forest spirits (according to Tibbs), for at least two hundred years now.
Demdike sped up and edged, as close as she dared, alongside Alizon.
‘Tha’ve bought nuther new un then?’ she said, nodding at Alizon’s broom, ‘wastin tha monee agin’.
‘Aye, ‘tis the new Cirrus 2006,’ said Alizon, ‘from the Hogwash school of witchcraft and wizardry down the valley. `Tis very fast and light with built in nav control.’ She pressed a knot in the witch-wood and an illuminated display panel appeared at the top of the broom. Demdike cackled and almost fell off her broom calling over to the others to come and see Alizon’s latest folly. Alizon explained that the broom had the latest satellite Witch Positioning System (WPS) technology and she showed them the displays for course, wind speed, altitude and proximity sensors. She showed them how to programme in their destination and watched as the system worked out the fastest route to Lancaster through the various cloud formations avoiding areas of potential rain or wind sheer but including suggestions for sightseeing variations or coven visiting en route. By now, they were all cackling so loudly Tibbs wondered if there were heads turning in the farmhouses below. ‘Tis Wi-Fi enabled,’ said Alizon, not about to give in. The howls of derision rose to deafening levels and a fox looked up and gave an answering howl on the moors below.
Alizon pursed her lips and pressed another knot on the Cirrus 2006. Up on the display came the Witch Shopping Channel with a special offer on “Thermal Tights for Late Night Flights – Double Stitched, Padded Gussets for Strength and Durability’ - Offer must end 5th November”
‘How much?’ gawped old Chattox, squinting at the tiny screen.
Demdike was laughing so much her eyes were streaming and she could no longer see where she was going, let alone the WPS display…. now announcing “Camel Motions Make Better Potions – See our new range of energy saving cauldrons – Super Low Carbon Emissions Guaranteed”.
Demdike stopped to wipe the tears from her eyes. Whin Fell lay far below outlined in moonlight and shadows; the familiar pattern of limestone rocks unchanged for countless centuries, centuries which had seen the world change beyond all recognition. You were counted lucky, in 1620, if you had sufficient food, clothing and shelter just to keep body and broomstick in one piece. There were precious few opportunities for retail therapy in 1620: there were precious few shops! Perhaps one could forgive a little indulgence now and then. She felt uneasy, nevertheless. Somehow the balance felt all wrong now: the earth was being consumed and yet still they wanted more and more and more and more and the spirits of many animals had given up and left with many more preparing to do so. It could be a cold and lonely planet in not too many years if people did not soon come to their senses. ‘Perhaps,’ she thought, ‘witches should intervene a little more.’ Tricky business that though, as Demdike knew to her cost.
The others had crossed Whin Fell already and were turning now towards Clougha Pike and the lights of Lancaster beyond. Demdike roused herself, flicking her fingers to send her negative thoughts and feelings back into the darkness where they were always available. After all, if a witch cannot have a little fun on All Hallows, then when can she?
By the time she caught up, Alizon was demonstrating the Cirrus 2006’s turbo boost and stealth modes and enjoying the looks of disbelief and incredulity from old Chattox; even Tibbs was impressed which was a rare thing indeed.
They glided silently across Hala Beck and angled down onto the allotments looking for the familiar outline of Tom’s shed. It was quickly apparent to them that something was not quite right and they fell silent, allowing their senses to probe the air, the soil, and the echoes of recent activity (which remain present far longer than mortals ever suspect). Tibbs sensed a hedgehog in a dense part of the hedge behind the shed, drowsy and almost asleep, but aware, as animals always are, of the presence of immortals. Tibbs changed shape and nudged through the undergrowth stopping to make the formal greetings and ask the necessary permissions before proceeding into the hogs lair to ask for news.
Alizon felt no need to wait for Tibbs news. She felt sure she knew the story already from the feel of the soil and the stillness of the air above it, and she was sad. She dismounted and parked her broom against the greenhouse. Noticing a cracked pane, she placed her palm against it and spoke a few words and felt the glass meld and become whole again. A further incantation banished a years worth of grime and mould and the glass sparkled in the moonlight.
Demdike walked round the plot, noting here and there the tell-tale signs of neglect and sensing the lethagy of the plants that remained. She spoke the spells of release at each corner of the plot; north and south and east, from where new life begins, and west, to where it departs. She felt the ground stir and the air lift the instant the spell cycle was complete.
Tibbs emerged from the hedge boy-formed, pulling a large thorn from the black sleeve of his jerkin. He sensed at once that old Demdike and Alizon had done what was required to heal the plot and to make it vibrant once more. He felt sure the new owner would notice the change the next time he or she came to visit. There was, however, further business to attend to that would require powers beyond his but which, (if the hog had told him correctly), old Demdike and old Chattox could perform easily if they so chose. Tibbs called them together behind old Tom’s shed, and this is what he said.
‘All things have their place and their rightness; the rat, the crow, the fox and the magpie. Even the unseemly things of this earth that are untouched and feared; the hairy spider, the snake that slithers and the maggots that eat of dead flesh.’ He paused while they nodded agreement. ‘Except for the slug,’ Tibbs coughed, ‘which is a right royal pain in the butt!’ The witches nodded harder. ‘Be that as it may,’ he continued, ‘there is great fear hereabouts. In the low reaches of the plot and the dead of night there be mortals who do sit with guns shooting all comers for sport and for fun. Rats crawl, mortally wounded, to die in the Beck. Crows fall dead from the sky and rot where they fall. The birds have ceased to sing in the day now and offtimes, the plot holders look skyward and wonder why.’ As Tibbs finished speaking there came the clear sound of a gun; distinct it was, from the intermittent sound of pre Guy Fawkes night fire-crackers being let off.
Old Chattox spat a curse and rose swiftly into the air. She circled above the sound of gunfire and from her broom there descended a thick mist which shrouded the area. To mortal eyes, it would appear strange enough, and from above, stranger indeed: a pure circle of cloud-formed opaqueness glittering with eerie moonlight, beautiful yet sinister.
Demdike toured the nearby greenhouses tapping each one with her wand. From each, the glass seemed to flow like a silven waterfall and to mould itself; now into a fox, now a rat, here and there a crow or a magpie, all with eyes blacker than death itself, and with teeth, claws or talons gleaming with a lethal sharpness.
The thick circle of cloud grew tighter and tighter around the hapless shooters as they re-loaded their weapons. ‘Tha’s a bit rum,’ said one, looking around uneasily at the encircling mist. They all stood now, dropping their weapons and staring around the circle looking in vain for a gap or a way out. The air within the circle became icy cold and the men, in panic now, started to make a run for it. As they did so, there emerged from the mist, thirteen forms of pure malevolence: dripping blood from talon or claw and staring with cold, dead eyes as the three, now petrified mortals, shrank back to the centre of the circle whimpering with fear. Then emerged from the mist a little boy, of angelic countenance, followed by three dark figures shrouded in black hooded cloaks who seemed to glide across the earth behind him. The men slumped back down onto the crates they had been sitting on and searched the boys face for some glimmer of hope. Tibbs approached to within a few feet of the men and stopped. Slowly, very slowly, he raised his glittering red eyes to them.
‘Trick, or treat,’ he said.
It is said that the men were discovered three days later, dishevelled, speechless and utterly exhausted and completely unable to find their way out of the allotments. When someone rang old Tom about it, he burst out laughing and said ‘Tha’s easy enough. Tell each one to take off an item of clothing, turn it inside out, and put it back on and then they’ll find the way out.’ His laughter brought on another bout of coughing and when it had subsided he said as an afterthought ‘Oh, by the way, tell them tomorrow….no rush.’
‘Eejits,’ said Alizon, picking up one of Tom’s choicest pumpkins.
‘Aye,’ said Demdike, ‘eejits right enough.’
‘Them leeks look good,’ said old Chattox pointing, ‘there, next to that shed with the bit of stained glass in the door. Oooh look! They’ve got some mangel wurzels too….haven’t had one of those in a good many year.’
‘Go on then,’ said Demdike, ‘but mind your manners…..not too many now.’
On the flight back to Malkin Tower, old Demdike pulled close to Alizon again and whispered. ‘How much were them tights again….the purple ones?’
Days later, when Tom felt strong enough, he was taken down to the plot for a last look. The birds were singing like crazy and his plants seemed to be dancing on their beds. He noticed there was a pumpkin missing and smiled.
Clods Caution: As Alizon mentions in the first part of this tale, prior to their executions, the Pendle Witches placed a curse on the City of Lancaster. It states that whoever shall come to live in the City shall never be able to leave it. Uncannily, the curse seems to work very well. Many have tried, but very few have succeeded.