The Halloween decorations made the houses almost as festive as Christmas, Fenella thought as she walked home. It wasn’t even the day itself, yet porches were already decked out with strings of lights in the form of spiders or ghosts, giant plastic pumpkins lounged in gardens, and windows were draped with fake cobwebs. Fenella liked it. Who cared if Halloween had become fun and ‘Americanised’? It made a welcome change from her own Samhain, which was getting more intense every year.
The cloaked and hooded figure lounging in her doorway added to the spooky nature of the street. Except that Fenella hadn’t placed it there.
‘Well met by moonlight, Sister,’ the figure intoned, and then rather spoiled it by giggling.
Fenella burst out laughing. ‘Well met indeed.’ She pulled her visitor into a hug, and the hood fell back to reveal the mane of auburn hair and freckled features she knew and missed. ‘Hi, Kate.’
‘So what brings you here?’ Fenella sank into an armchair and took a swig of her tea. ‘And why can’t you just phone, like a normal person? Or does that Goddessforsaken town you live in not have phones?’
Kate jiggled her mug from hand to hand, perched on the edge of the comfy Ikea sofa. The room could not be more different from her own living space. Fenella favoured bright, modern fabrics and light wood. Kate’s ancient cottage was welcoming, but in a muted, faded sort of way.
‘We have the internet too, you know,’ Kate said primly. ‘Also, flushing toilets.’ She grimaced at her scalding hot coffee, but drank it anyway. ‘Oh – and vampires, of course.’
‘Yes, they do rather lower the tone of the place.’ They spoke lightly, but Fenella knew her friend was worried. ‘I take it they’re being more of a problem than usual?’
Kate had left the coven many years ago, and taken on the unofficial and unenviable job of keeping an eye on the town over the river. As well as the human population, there was a thriving colony of vampires. Thanks to Kate’s vigilance, they mostly behaved themselves. The ones that got out of line were dealt with, either by Kate herself, or one of the warrior families allied with her.
‘One of them is.’ Kate pulled a face at Fenella. ‘I’m sorry to ask you so close to Samhain – I know you’re all busy – but would the Coven let me see the books? I need a spell stronger than any I’ve got. It’s a long shot, but there might be something in there that would help.’
‘It’s not the Coven, as such, we’ll need to see.’
Kate raised an eyebrow. ‘No?’
‘No. It’s young Evie.’
‘What!’ Kate nearly spilled her coffee. ‘What the hells – she’s about twelve, isn’t she?’
‘She’s sixteen.’ Fenella was already dialling a number on her mobile.
Kate finished her drink and took her mug into the kitchen. She gazed around the modern, tidy little space, thinking of her temperamental Aga and chipped Belfast sink. But then, Fenella didn’t do much magic here. Kate needed a large, practical kitchen. When she returned to the living room, Fenella was already pulling her coat back on.
‘We’re going? Right now?’
‘Yup. Come on, if we hurry, we’ll be in and out before her mum gets in. You know she doesn’t approve of the Coven…’
Kate snorted, grabbing her cloak. ‘Which is a bit ridiculous, since she comes from a family of witches.’
‘Yes, but she never had the talent, remember? It skipped a generation and came out in Evie – in a big way.’
The two women hurried along the street. Fenella paid no attention to the Halloween decorations this time. Instead, she worried about the wisdom of introducing Evie to Kate. They were the two most powerful witches she knew, and both inclined to be solitary, in spite of Evie’s belonging to the Coven. A lot of witches found Kate a bit weird. She mentally shook herself. Kate was a law unto herself, but that was all. Maybe she would even be a good example to Evie, who in Fenella’s opinion was a bit too cocky for a sixteen year old.
They arrived at a house which as far as Kate could tell, was a carbon copy of Fenella’s, except bigger. Fenella had scarcely knocked when the door flew open, revealing a teenager in skinny jeans and a band t-shirt, fair hair piled in a messy bun on top of her head.
‘Auntie Fen!’ Evie hugged Fenella, then looked past her. ‘And you must be Kate. I’ve heard all about you.’
‘Ha.’ Kate gave a little bow. ‘I hope I live up to expectations.’
They entered the smart hallway, a polished wooden floor leading to a flight of stairs carpeted in cream. Kate couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t a practical colour at all.
Evie seemed to read her mind. ‘Mum has the house looking as unwitchy as possible.’ She scowled. ‘Because she can’t do it, it doesn’t exist. Isn’t it awful? At least Auntie Fen’s is colourful, even though it’s modern. This is the blandest house in existence.’
‘That’s enough.’ Fenella poked her niece in the arm. ‘I take it we’re heading up to your room?’
‘Come on!’ Evie bounded up the stairs two at a time.
Fenella and Kate exchanged glances. ‘She is good,’ Fenella murmured.
‘I have no doubt of it.’ Kate had sensed the power in the girl. She was already a force to be reckoned with. Kate had been too, at that age.
They mounted the stairs and followed Evie into her bedroom. In many ways it was a typical teenage cave; clothes strewn about, posters of bands on the wall. The scent of roses filled the small space. Under the window a desk held a pile of assorted books and magazines, and an iPod dock. A miniature cauldron stood next to the desk, simmering away with a mixture the colour of pea soup. Also on the wall was a fire extinguisher. Evie was practical as well as talented.
‘You said vampires, Auntie Fen,’ Evie was sitting at the desk, leafing through an ancient tome, pages crackling. ‘That’s all in this volume, but I didn’t know exactly what sort of spell you wanted..?’
Fenella realised she didn’t know either. She sat on Evie’s bed, moving a plush toy owl out of the way. ‘You said ‘problem’, Kate? What sort of problem?’
Kate sat cross-legged on the floor, as though she were Evie’s age. ‘No, you said ‘problem’. It’s a bit more than that – and it’s two problems. Number one: I need a stronger Sensing Spell. A vampire passed my boundaries – and I didn’t know it.’
Fenella whistled. She knew how strong Kate’s magic was. ‘That must have been a powerful vamp.’
‘She is.’ Kate’s voice indicated she didn’t want to go into that. ‘The other problem…this vamp sucked a friend of mine dry. I healed him with a Blood Spell – with my blood. I don’t know what that makes him, but that can wait. For now, I need to strengthen my ability to see what comes into the town.’
‘Wow.’ Evie was staring at Kate in admiration. ‘There’s a few Sensing and Boundary Spells in here. Do you want to take the book? I don’t need it for – er – anything, just now.’
Kate looked at Fenella. ‘Would that be okay? I don’t want to upset the Coven.’
Fenella shook her head. ‘Evie’s had the books since she turned sixteen. Let’s face it; none of the rest of us are any good with them. If she’s happy for you to take it, that’s fine.’
‘Thank you, Evie.’ Kate nodded at the young witch. Glancing at the cauldron, she asked, ‘What are you working on, anyway? Smells like there’s a Love Potion in there somewhere.’
Evie wriggled. ‘Ah, well, it’s something my apothecary suggested. To improve the – uh – Samhain spell.’
‘Good Goddess, you guys aren’t still trying to conjure him?’ Kate said incredulously. ‘Whatever for? I know you want to relive the Lochie Witches’ glorious past, but honestly..!’
Fenella was wriggling too. ‘Well, we got the Great Black Dog last year,’ she retorted. ‘So we thought we’d try for – you know.’
‘I do know.’ Kate saw the woman in Evie, vying with the girl. The woman and the witch – a dangerous combination. ‘I know what you want him for, young miss. And I’ll tell you this – as your first, he’s a dangerous choice. If he’ll do it.’
‘How dare you!’ Evie sprang to her feet, knocking over her chair. ‘I know what I’m doing – I’m not some kid!’
‘Of course you’re not.’ Fenella glared at Kate, willing her to shut up. ‘It’s just that Kate’s got some…experience…’
‘With him? How can she?’ Evie asked. ‘No-one’s conjured him for centuries!’
‘Your coven hasn’t conjured him, you mean.’ Kate rose from her position on the floor. ‘That doesn’t mean that no-one else has.’
‘Oohh!’ Evie all but stamped her foot. ‘I don’t believe you!’
The argument was interrupted by a sharp ‘Pop!’ from behind them. The three women froze, and turned to the cauldron.
Evie’s concoction, which had been simmering moments ago, was seething and bubbling now like hot lava – if lava was a sickly shade of green. As they watched, the larger bubbles grew into tendrils, reaching up from the cauldron like rotting fingers. The rose petal scent was gone, replaced by a decayed, cloying smell.
‘It’s never done this before,’ Evie said uncertainly. Her anger at Kate was forgotten. She looked at the older witch.
‘Too much power in here…’ Kate mused, approaching the cauldron. ‘Is he part of this spell already?’
‘Yes,’ Evie whispered.
‘Evie!’ Fenella was horrified. ‘You know he’s not to be invoked until Samhain itself!’
‘I just wanted to try something.’ Evie’s voice held a tinge of fear. The fingers were elongating now, reaching out to the three of them, trailing down the sides of the cauldron towards the floor. Evie squeaked and jumped back. The potion was changing from green to black. An air of menace came with the change, as though some conscious entity was behind it.
‘Oh no!’ Evie moaned as the tendrils reached the carpet, causing it to sizzle and burn. ‘Mum’s going to kill me!’
Fenella would have laughed, if the situation hadn’t been so serious. What had Evie done?
Kate, however, appeared unperturbed. She reached out – and poked one of the blackened fingers. To Fenella and Evie’s surprise, it retreated.
‘Get back in that pot, you.’ Kate said conversationally. ‘Stop trying to scare people.’
The fingers stretched and warped and shivered, then shortened until they were sliding back into the cauldron.
‘I know you feed off emotion,’ Kate was lecturing the dark green gunge, which had settled a bit, although it was still bubbling. ‘But feeding off a witch’s anger is dangerous, even for you. Especially three witches – the magic number. Bugger off – and if you’re about at Samhain, watch your step.’
The pea soup mixture blew a raspberry at her, then went back to simmering. Evie and Fenella stared, open-mouthed. Evie recovered first.
‘Who were you talking to?’ she squeaked. ‘Not…not..?’
Kate patted the cauldron. ‘Sorry I lost my temper. That was stupid of me. You’ll be fine, Evie. Just be careful. And remember, he’s a man, once he’s in that skin. Just a man.’
‘That’s like,’ Evie replied slowly, ‘How he’s just a dog, when he’s a dog?’
‘People give him the power.’ Kate gathered up the spellbook from the desk. ‘Because they know what he is. But on Earth, not Below, he’s just whatever form he takes. Oh, he has words, and we all know how powerful words are. But that’s all. No magic, no superpowers, nothing.’
‘What’s he like?’ whispered Evie. ‘Really?’
‘What he was like for me won’t be the same as for you. Or for your Auntie Fen. Or Nana Anne. Or any of the others. Understand?’ She and Evie locked eyes for a moment.
Fenella had had enough. ‘Evie,’ she said firmly, ‘I don’t know if what we’re planning to do at Samhain is a good idea, after all.’
Kate patted her fellow witch’s shoulder. ‘I do. It is. I wish you every success, ladies.’ She tucked the spellbook under her arm. ‘I better get back. I have someone really evil to deal with.’ She met Evie’s eyes again. ‘Evil is all here on Earth. Remember that. Thanks again for the book – I’ll get it back as soon as I can.’
Evie and Fenella looked at each other as Kate turned for the door.
‘Kate!’ Evie called. ‘Thank you – for rescuing my bedroom carpet.’
Kate grinned. ‘Have fun with him – Sisters.’ She used the Coven’s term of address for each other.
‘Tell him Katarina says hi.’
Thanks to William Shakespeare for the title – even if he did take terrible liberties with the story of Macbeth…