A Muddy River Halloween
Realistically, there’s only a full moon about once every nineteen years for Halloween, or what we refer to as Samhain. This was one of those years, and I was as excited as all of the other witches in Muddy River.
“You lived with Celts for a while, didn’t you?” my mate, Raven, asked. Samhain was their holiest festival, the beginning of a new year. The time when nights grew longer than days.
We were sitting on the front porch of our Victorian house in the evening, watching the sun set. Raven knew the important blips in my life history, but we’d both lived a long time. We’d only touched on the big things in our pasts. “I was born when the Celts settled in Ireland, around 500 B.C.”
He was older than I was. Lillith had sucked out his last breath and blown her own into him, making him a demon, long before that. I could understand why she’d turned him. Who wouldn’t want a few centuries to enjoy him? Hopefully, we’d be partners even longer than that.
“But all witches celebrate Samhain, don’t they?” My fire demon had battled witches many times, ones gone bad, but had never lived with one. He didn’t know as much about us as I’d expected.
I nodded. “We follow the pagan traditions.”
“How long did you stay in Ireland?”
“Until the fourth century when the Anglo Saxons began to invade. Then we moved to Europe. When the witch hunts started there, we moved to the New World, thinking we’d be safer. We weren’t.” I was the only one of my entire family who’d survived Salem.
“Do you still believe the old pagan ways?” He stretched his long legs. Raven’s six five of pure muscle. When he stretches his legs, they reach all the way to the porch railing.
I took a sip of my wine. “Even witches study science in school, but science doesn’t really explain magic, does it? Our Hecate is goddess of the moon and hunt, so we always celebrate a full moon and the solstices.”
“But Samhain isn’t a solstice, and there’s rarely a full moon.”
“No, it’s a night to celebrate the last harvest. It’s the start of our New Year. The entire town parties—all of us—witches, shifters, and vampires. We’ve lived long enough to remember the old ways. In old beliefs, the veil between the two worlds thinned. We use it to honor our dead ancestors. When a full moon and Samhain fall on the same night, it’s a really special occasion.”
His lips quirked in a smile. “So Muddy River’s going to go all out for this?”
“Of course.” Claws padded onto the porch to join us. My ocelot/familiar had spent enough time prowling the river bank at the far back of our property. He sprawled at my feet and closed his eyes. “We’ll have to leave a saucer of milk out that night.”
Raven frowned. “Why? Claws doesn’t like milk.”
Fire demons obviously didn’t share our rituals. “It’s tradition, like hanging a Christmas stocking. Cat Sith, from Celt mythology, is a black cat with a white spot on its chest. If you leave her a saucer of milk, you’ll be blessed. If you don’t, you’ll be cursed.”
“Like trick-or-treaters?” he asked. “If you don’t treat them, they trick you.”
I nodded. “Cat Sith is said to be a witch who can transform to a cat and back nine times in her life.”
“Hasn’t she used those all up by now?” he asked.
I smiled. “No one wants to risk it. I personally think she can shift back and forth at will.” If I could brew potions to aid every Were in Muddy River to easily shift, I’m sure she could, too.
With a chuckle, he stood to go inside and bring us fresh drinks. When he returned, the horizon was turning a deep rose, and the sun blazed a bright orange as it sank out of sight. The night air held the scent of rich earth and harvests and the tang of the river. I’d picked most of the herbs from my witch’s garden, and they were hanging from the rafters of my attic, drying.
We sat in silence until stars twinkled in the black sky. Then finally, we went inside. This year, Samhain would be even more agreeable than usual, happening on a Saturday. This weekend, tables would line Main Street, filled with food families carried in. One table would be set, holding sweets and treats for the dead who came to visit us. Each member of my coven, including me, had already hung autumnal wreaths on our front doors.
When we climbed the steps to bed, Raven threw the curtains open so that the moon could beam in on us. It was already bright. Soon, it would shine enough to light our festivities in town. The Harvest moon was a sight to behold.
The next few days flew by with people busy decorating Main Street with pumpkins, their orange representing the vitality of life to offset black tablecloths, symbolic of death. On the actual night, candles and lanterns were lit everywhere to the light the way for the waning sun. Before the feast began, every door I saw had a bowl of cream sitting beside it.
Raven, as Muddy River’s enforcer, announced the beginning of the festivities. People laughed and talked as they ate. Then the music started. Shifters, in their various forms, whirled their partners onto the street to dance. When the last notes ebbed, they’d leave to race toward the woods surrounding the town to hunt. My coven performed a cleansing spell for the entire area and then chanted for Hecate to bless us with her silver beams. We all ate, drank, and danced until I was too weary and went to find a chair. Raven joined me, and we were watching our fellow citizens when I noticed a black cat, padding from one building to the next, taking one lap of milk from each bowl set out. Until it reached Red’s gas station. Red was an enfield shifter—part fox/part eagle. He sat at the end of the last table, alone. Typical. The man was almost a recluse, who lived a simple life with simple needs. He could fix anything, a wonderful mechanic, with a quick mind and nimble fingers. Five ten, with a stringy build, red hair, black eyes, and a sharp nose, he even looked clever. But he hadn’t put out any cream.
The cat stopped at the door of his station with its small, attached house. It turned to scan the people partying, and its golden eyes stopped and stared at Red. The full moon shone on the small white spot on its chest and I offered a quick chant that Cat Sith wouldn’t curse Red. Too late, the cat turned to stalk away, and a long tree branch crashed onto the roof of Red’s house.
For weeks after that, once Red fixed one problem, another showed itself. I liked Red. He should have put out cream for Cat Sith, but I didn’t think he deserved all of the curses that plagued him, one after another.
I almost dreaded driving to town on Saturday, afraid to hear what had befallen him this time. I was delivering a new batch of potions to Prim for her magic shop when I saw a young witch, maybe only six or seven, trudging tiredly down Main Street on her way through town. Her clothes were tattered, her red hair dirty and matted. She stopped to stare longingly into Noira and Sugi’s coffee shop at their glass counter, filled with baked treats. I was walking toward her when Red opened the door of the shop to leave. He stopped when he saw the small girl with her nose pressed against the glass.
“Are you hungry?” he asked. She was the most bedraggled thing I’d seen for a long time.
Cringing, she took a step away from him.
“No need to be frightened. I was going to go back inside for another cup of coffee. Would you like something? My treat? I hate to eat alone.”
Really? The man usually avoided company. The girl stared, clearly thinking of bolting, but then pressed a hand to her stomach and nodded.
Red opened the door and motioned her into the shop. “Order whatever you want. Everything these girls make is wonderful.”
By the time I followed them inside, the girl had a slice of quiche, two donuts, and a cream puff sitting in front of her with a glass of milk. Red was sipping at his coffee. He nodded for me to join them. “Hester, let me introduce you to my friend. She seems to be alone, and I have no idea where she came from or where she’s going. She’s not the talkative type.”
I sniffed the air. Clearly witch magic. I studied the girl, then tried a smile. “Does your family live around here?”
For such a young girl, she came across as worn and tired. She tilted her head, clearly taking my measure, then asked, “You’re an old witch, aren’t you?”
I nodded. “I’m the leader of Muddy River’s coven, and I teach young witches at my school for magic.”
Another long pause, then she said, “I don’t have a family. My dad said my mother was a witch, but she left when I was a baby and I don’t remember her. Dad got sick and died. I buried him and stayed in our house as long as I could, but all of the food ran out, and I didn’t know where to go.”
Red stared at her. “You don’t have any aunts? Uncles? No one?”
Chin high, she shook her head. “But I’m strong and a hard worker. I can earn my keep.”
“Earn your keep?” Red looked appalled. “You should be in school or outside playing with friends.”
“No time for that,” she said. “I need to eat, to find a place to stay. I came here to find a job.”
He turned to me. “I need an assistant. My house isn’t big, but it has two bedrooms. Can she go to your school?”
I forced down a smile. Red had always managed before. “My classes have already started. She’s behind, but I’ll help her catch up.”
He frowned at the girl. “There you go then. You have a home if you want one. I can offer you that.”
She shook her head. “The old woman told me to go to this town’s gas station. I’m meant to try there first.”
Red’s jaw dropped. “Why is that?”
“If the man’s kind to me, we’ll both be blessed. If he isn’t, his curse won’t lift, and she said to find Hester.” She looked at me. “That’s you, isn’t it?”
I nodded and pointed to Red. “And Red’s the man who owns the gas station.”
It was the girl’s turn to look surprised, then her whole expression lit. “She sent me to you.”
Red lowered his eyes. Voice small, he said, “She’s being kinder than I deserve. I forgot to put out cream.”
When the girl frowned, confused, I said, “Red will explain. If everything’s settled here, I need to get going. Raven will be home soon.”
On the drive out of town to our house on Banks Road, I remembered a lesson my grandmother often repeated. “The cream we leave for Cat Sith is really a reminder to be kind to our fellow beings.” Red might have forgotten to put out cream, but he’d taken in a small orphan. And that act of kindness would enrich not only her life but his as well. Cat Sith had blessed them both. A happy ending to a special Samhain.