Taïga has trekked through the forest to watch the Bigwood Falls Elementary School just in time to see everyone arriving. She stays on the other side of the road, at the edge of the forest with Minuit in her arms. She’s amazed at the number of children that goes there. She longs to start school, but at the same time she’s scared. She’s always been homeschooled, so she isn’t really used to play with other children. She supposes she should be happy and grateful not being obliged to go to school, but at the same time she wouldn’t mind having a few friends. She wonders if there will be anyone coming to knock on Granny’s door tonight…
Taïga watches the kids pile out of the schoolbus. Her attention is drawn to a dark boy riding his bike. He seems to be looking straight at her and she ducks behind a rock. When she dares take a look again, everyone has vanished inside.
Back home at the Cove, she settles in front of the pumpkins. Together with Granny they have carved at least ten Jack O’Lanterns last night but there are still as many left.
Tonight is Halloween – or Samhain as Granny insists on calling the witches’ night. Taïga and Mrs. Brown decorate the whole morning and she continues carving after lunch until sunset, thinking about going trick ‘r treating – alone.
‘Well, not exactly alone. I’ll go with Granny,’ she explains to Minuit. ‘If she comes home in time… She seems to be true to her word, so if she doesn’t show up it’s probably because of something really important. Like that meeting with her “colleagues” she went to after breakfast.’
The cat meows and stretches, suddenly alert to something moving behind some of the pumpkins. It’s a tiny green lizard, cautiously moving towards a warm spot in the sun. Fascinated Taïga watches the cat crawl up behind the unsuspecting animal and jump on it. But the lizard is too fast, it disappears with Minuit desperately trying to catch it.
‘This was the last one! Mrs. Brown! Come and see!’
Mrs. Brown nods her approval from the porch, and helps Taïga light all the pumpkins and dispose them nicely in the garden. ‘We’d better hurry, your grandmother will soon come home. Your costume is on the bed. Now off you go!’
Taïga rushes upstairs to change, leaving Mrs. Brown to finish decorating.
She is so excited to go trick and treat for the first time in her life. Mrs. Brown has cleaned and ironed her mother’s old outfit and even if Taïga would rather have dressed like an astronaut or a dinosaur, the old Leprechaun costume will do. With or without the red pants Mrs. Brown couldn’t lay her hands on. She throws her pumpkin stained clothes into the laundry basket and pulls on her baggy jeans.
‘The most important is not being recognized,’ she mumbles to herself, and maybe to Buddy, who’s watching her from his position on the bed. ‘And that’s a piece of cake, as nobody knows me anyway!’
Happily singing the seven dwarf’s tune from Disney’s Snow White, she dances down the stairs and out onto the porch. She puts down her little pumpkin basket, and jumps down the four steps shrieking with joy.
She inspects all the pumpkins and takes up position where she can overlook the dirt track leading to the Cove. She wonders if Granny will recognize her – she is wearing a long white beard after all. Tired of waiting she checks to see if there are any fish in the little pond, but the sky is covering up with threatening grey clouds so she can’t really see without approaching and both Granny and Mrs. Brown have strictly forbidden her to play by the pond. She returns to the edge of the garden to check if she can see Granny coming. Or even better – some kids her age showing up at her house!
But there’s not a living soul around, apart from Minuit and the garden gnomes. Even though they hardly can count for living souls. Her grandmother has left early to attend the annual meeting with the North Covens and has probably forgotten all about going trick or treating with her grandchild.
She lifts the beard to scratch her chin. Poor Santa, having to suffer an itchy beard all year. But where’s Granny? She promised…
It finally starts to rain. First just a few random drops making haphazard circles on the still dark water in the little pond, but soon it’s a real downpour. She stays until the rain forces her to give up. Disappointed, she returns inside.
She calls out for Mrs. Brown, but remembers that she were supposed to look for something important in the attic. The house seems eerily empty without the adults.
Taïga is bored of waiting. And disillusioned. Grown-ups are so selfish. She fetches the blue wand she found under the floorboards, and walks through the empty house, imagining she’s the King of the Leprechauns with incredible magic, transforming the Cove into a castle. Back in the kitchen she takes some homemade candy from the tray Mrs. Brown has prepared in view of tonight’s visits, but she’s sure no one will come…
Minuit meows, she has brought in a little brown lizard. Laughing, Taïga scoops it up. ‘Poor little fellow, you’re not dressed up for tonight? Wait a minute.’
She holds the little frightened lizard up in front of her and waves her wand.
Change the color of the lizard Minuit just brought in!’
To her surprise the wand comes to life and a shower of multicolored tiny stars erupts, settling on the lizard and transforming it into an exotic looking reptile.
‘Wow… That was unexpected.’
She tiptoes over to the door and checks the hall. No sign of Mrs. Brown. She bites her lower lip. She knows she shouldn’t… But there’s no one around, and she just wants to give it another try. She justifies herself, saying to Minuit, ‘It could have been a coincidence after all… I mean, we won’t know for sure if we don’t try again, huh?’
Minuit blinks noncommittally.
Taïga swirls the wand and the air is filled with shrill song as some yellow tropical birds emerge out of thin air.
‘Oh my God! This is fun!’ She giggles, holding her hand out for them to settle on, but they are panicked to be trapped inside and flies around; flapping their wings in search of an escape.
The singing is beautiful, but a little too noisy. Mrs. Brown will surely hear them and come downstairs to stop the fun. No, she must make the birds disappear somehow, but she’s afraid she’ll kill them if she opens a window to let them out into the cold Fall evening.
Taïga concentrates, waving her wand and asking to transform the birds into serious, silent animals.
‘Oups! A turtle! Err… Two turtles… Four, five… Gah. At least they are silent. But the birds are still here. Ouch!’ A plate crashes to the floor after a bird tried to land on it.
More turtles keep popping out and Taïga sidesteps, losing her balance trying to avoid the slow-moving animals. She waves her arms to keep on her feet and the wand describes a large circle, spewing glitter.
One of the kitchen chairs disappear in a burst of light. Taïga blinks at the sight of a bunch of squirrels where the chair used to be.
Taïga stares at the blue wand. It’s warm in her hand, feeling like a living thing. ‘How do you turn it off?’ she asks Minuit, who seems just as surprised as herself at the multitude of animals in the kitchen. The cat shies away from a turtle getting too close, not leaving the squirrels with her yellow eyes.
There must be a way to stop this. She almost jumps out of her skin when she hears the door closing, followed by hurried steps in the hall.
Uh-oh… Granny’s coming… She hastily moves towards the window to let the animals out. Better them than me. She fumbles with the handle but it’s too late.
‘I’m sorry for being this late, but if you’re ready we could leave- Aaaah!’ Granny’s smile fades as she takes in the mayhem in the kitchen. She ducks as a yellow parakeet dives for her hat.
Taïga stops dead. Carefully she turns around, hiding the wand behind her back. Granny raises an eyebrow, ducking again. ‘Stand aside.’ She draws her wand and with a flick of it accompanied with some murmuring, the animals vanish, one after the other, leaving Minuit sitting on the kitchen table, looking around in search of the squirrels.
Taïga lets out her breath. ‘Err… Granny.’ She points to the large bird dropping on her grandmother’s black hat.
Granny takes it off, looking at it with disgust, then promptly puts it back on again.
‘Taïga? I’m waiting for an explanation.’
‘Err… It was Minuit. She… err, brought them all… inside. Here – into the kitchen!’
The old witch fixes her granddaughter, ‘A lizard, a bunch of canary birds and turtles and the Goddess knows what else?’
‘Err… Some squirrels?’
‘I don’t know why you’re lying to me Taïga. Now, you can leave.’
‘But it’s Halloween-’
‘I said – LEAVE. I have to take care of this mess… Sheesh.’ She looks around the kitchen at the feathers and bird droppings. ‘I wonder where Mrs. Brown could be…’
‘She’s in the attic.’
‘Are you still here? Just- just go upstairs! And do something useful. Like your homework. Shoo.’
‘Don’t answer back, young lady.’
‘But really, Granny,’ Taïga hiccups. ‘I can’t do my homework. I don’t… I don’t… I don’t go to school!’
Granny waves a finger in front of Taïga’s nose, ‘Well, you should. All children should go to school! An idle brain is the devil’s workshop!’
Taïga rushes past her angry grandmother, right into Mrs. Brown’s arms. The housekeeper steadies the little girl, who fights her off and continues upstairs, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Mrs. Brown looks accusingly at Granny, ‘You’re wrong, you shouldn’t have-’
‘When I’ll need your advice, Mrs. Brown, I will ask for it!’
‘-been so harsh. Poor thing has waited for you the whole afternoon, carving pumpkins to prepare for Halloween, and now she’s punished from going trick or treating. And it’s not her fault she’s not going to school.’
They stare at each other for a moment, and it’s finally Granny who backs down. How could I have missed that? Of course the wretched child must go to school…
Later the same evening, Taïga is reading in front of the fire. She has picked a book with pictures, but discovered it’s some kind of sports encyclopedia.
She yawns. This book is so boring, it must be extremely useful – if you plan on becoming a football player or something sporty… She tries to concentrate on her book, but it’s difficult with all the scary noise from upstairs. What is Granny doing up there? It sounds like she’s breaking things, or at least throwing them around! She must be terribly angry…
An eerie silence replaces suddenly the noise and Taïga holds her breath. She can hear the stairs creaking, but keeps her eyes glued to the page, starting on the same sentence for the umpteenth time, her heart beating fast.
The two old ladies stop on the stairs to take in the peaceful scene. Mrs. Brown clears her throat.
Granny glares at the housekeeper. ‘I have the situation under control.’
Mrs. Brown looks dubious, but she doesn’t say anything. Granny clears her throat, too. ‘Ahem… Taiga, it’s time to get ready for bed. You should come upstairs now.’ A little contrite she adds, ‘Please.’
Mrs. Brown nods her approval behind Granny’s back, hurrying back to her beloved kitchen.
Dutifully Taïga follows Granny upstairs, where she changes into her pajamas and struggles to disentangle her hair. Granny walks around the bathroom, picking up the young girl’s discarded clothes and putting them in the hamper, mumbling to herself about the bath toys Mrs. Brown has whipped out of one of the many forgotten boxes in the attic. Taïga surveys her out of the corner of her eye.
‘You should braid it,’ Granny points out.
‘I don’t know how. Mom used to brush my hair and braid it…’ Taïga squirts some toothpaste onto her toothbrush.
Granny fiddles with Taïga’s long socks, folding and unfolding, finally throwing them into the hamper. ‘Here. Let me help you. Or we’ll never get you to bed.’
She takes the brush from Taïga’s hands and starts brushing the young girl’s hair with long smooth strokes. Taïga winces. ‘Tsk. Tsk. You have to suffer to be beautiful.’
‘Mom used to say that, but I don’t ever want to become beautiful if it hurts!’
Granny clucks her tongue. ‘You mother was – is– a beauty, and I wasn’t hard on the eyes either when I was younger.’ She nods towards a yellowing photograph on the wall. ‘So, there’s no reason you won’t grow up rather well.’ She parts Taïga’s long hair, dampens it and starts to braid. ‘If your father doesn’t turn out to be a troll or a goblin…’ she mumbles to herself.
‘Mom always made one.’
‘One braid in the nape of the neck.’
‘Did she now. Well, I make two.’
‘But I prefer one. I think it’s a lot prettier.’
Granny meets her grandchild’s eyes in the mirror. ‘Your mother probably made one because it was faster. Two is prettier. Hold still now…’
Taïga is beginning to know her grandmother and arguing won’t get her anywhere. She clenches her teeth and fights the pain. ‘Did you braid mom’s hair, Granny?’
‘I did… Same raven hair, same curls… same knots!’ With a sigh she secures the second braid.
Taïga looks at her image in the mirror. Two braids isn’t that bad. In fact it’s rather pretty… She still prefers one, but she could get used to two.
‘Can you teach me how to braid, Granny?’
Granny hasn’t thought about it, but why not. Like that her granddaughter could braid her own hair and get more independent. ‘Right. We could tie three ribbons onto the handle and-’
But Taïga’s attention is drawn to the painting on Granny’s wall. ‘What about the dancers?’
‘What about them? It’s a Degas, child.’
‘Degas? I thought they were dancing. I like their dresses. I want to be a Degas, too when I grow up.’
‘Oh, they are ballerinas, dear. At the Opera in Paris. Degas is the painter and he’s long dead.’
Taïga strikes a pose, imitating the pretty dancers in the painting.
‘I have something for you.’ Granny says, putting away the brush and comb.
‘I guess we could call it that…’
Granny pushes open the door to the old dressing and turns on the light.
‘What do you think?’
‘Is it my room?’ Taïga looks inquiringly up at her grandmother, who nods.
‘Yes. It’s your room.’
Mrs. Brown found Shasta’s old furniture up in the attic, and Granny has installed everything for her granddaughter with a little help from magic.
‘So that’s what all the noise was about!’ With a delighted squeal, Taïga jumps up onto the bed. ‘I love it Granny! Thank you so much!’
She lifts up a little unicorn- ‘It’s so cute! I love unicorns! Was it Mom’s?’ -then puts it back down next to a horrible little doll on her nightstand. ‘What’s that, Granny? It looks scary.’
Her grandmother hints a smile, ‘It might be horrible, but it is very fun. I’ll teach you how to use it when you’re ready.’
Taïga sits cross-legged on the bed, hugging the cuddly unicorn. ‘When I am ready… When am I?’
Granny nods towards the dresser, ‘When you know how to use that blue wand of yours correctly!’
Taïga blushes. She should have known. Granny finds out everything.
She lets herself fall backwards onto the fluffy pillow. ‘This is so good… I think my bed is my new favorite place!’
Granny chuckles. ‘Time to sleep. Goodnight.’
Exhausted from the emotionally draining day, the young girl creeps under the covers and asks shyly, ‘Can you read for me? Pretty please?’
Granny is on the verge of saying no, but changes her mind. This wasn’t according to plan, but if it makes her happy, why not? And I’d like to read all these formulas and recipes in the old spell book again to learn them better. Just this once…
The next morning, Taïga discovers a cage on the landing. When she approaches, she sees a little squirrel inside.
Granny’s grumpy voice interrupts Taïga’s thoughts, ‘Just so we don’t walk on all these critters everywhere.’
‘How does it open?’ Taïga fiddles with the lock.
‘Let me show you. If we keep it, you’ll have to name it and feed it every day. And cuddle it so it gets used to you.’
‘Will I have to clean the cage?’
‘Uh-huh… Mrs. Brown can show you how to do it, but it’s your responsibility.’
Taïga thinks… ‘Well. I think I’d prefer setting it free, Granny. But I’d love to cuddle it a little first!’
November comes with cold and frost. The surrounding mountain peaks are already covered in snow, but most days they are hidden from view by a dense mist… Winter is coming, but also Taïga’s birthday.
Mrs. Brown has found out and is bugging Granny about it.
‘We don’t do birthdays, Mrs. Brown.’
The housekeeper takes the eggs from Granny, adding them to the array of ingredients covering the counter.
‘It’s important for a child to receive a gift when it’s her birthday. Especially since her mother is gone. Without a trace.’ She looks reproachfully at Granny.
‘It’s not my fault that she left before I had the time to undo the cloaking spell!’
‘Is it not?’ Mrs. Brown raises an eyebrow and with a sideways glance turns on the mixer, creaming butter and sugar together. The sound is effectively drowning Granny’s objections and she strides out from the kitchen.
Mrs. Brown is getting bolder and bolder, there’s no way to stop her blabbering since that dang child showed up on our doorstep! A present, a present! I have no intention of going into town to buy a new toy! She seems perfectly pleased with her mother’s ragdoll, and she has already got a new room. Well, it’s new to her anyway… More presents… Where will this end! She will grow up to a spoiled brat…
The next morning Granny hovers outside Taïga’s room, waiting for her to wake up.
‘Oh! What a coincidence! I was just on my way downstairs…’ She holds out a simply wrapped white box with a huge red ribbon, ‘It’s not much, but I think you’ll like it… Happy birthday!’
Taïga squeals with joy, ‘I knew you wouldn’t forget!’
She throws her arms around her grandmother, ‘I love you, Granny!’
Granny awkwardly pats the childs back, ‘Ahem, I … just open it!’
Impatiently Taïga tears open her gift, and picks up the small object inside. ‘A key? What does it open?’
‘The chest over there. Go on, open it…’
Taïga has never noticed the ancient chest before. The lock is old, and she struggles a little, but finally it springs open. She peeks inside,
‘Take a closer look. Go on,’ Granny urges smugly.
Taïga bends over the chest and almost falls into it, when a prickling sensation makes her pull back.
‘There’s something in there tickling me, Granny!’
‘Good. That means it works. It’s a magic chest, with costumes. Just imagine what you would like to dress up in, and see what happens.’
‘OK.’ It seems farfetched, but this is a strange house, and her grandmother sure isn’t like any other grandmother. Actually, it’s the only grandmother she has ever known, but she is certain the others aren’t like Granny. She checks the inside of the chest again, letting the prickling sensation run up her arms and all the way down to her toes. Straightening up again she looks down at the velvet dress in a rich red color.
‘I’m a princess…’ she says in wonder. ‘Granny! Look at me! I’m a princess! A princess fairy with a princess-fairy stick! Look!’
Amazed she spins, making the long dress swirl. ‘Look how pretty it is!’
Granny’s mouth twitches at the sight of her grandchild radiating wonder and joy.
‘Can I get this dress in any color? In blue?’
Granny finally lets a smile light up her face. ‘Any color! Now let’s go downstairs, I know for sure Mrs. Brown has prepared something special for your birthday breakfast.’
Taïga grabs the dress in a very ladylike manner, and slides her little hand into her grandmother’s as they walk down the stairs. Suddenly she stops.
‘What if I stain the dress? I think I’d better change.’ She rushes back upstairs but is soon back, taking her grandmother’s hand again before she has reached the bottom of the stairs. Mrs. Brown is waiting in the dining room with a huge four layer Funfetti monster cake. Taïga lets go of Granny’s hand and throws herself into Mrs. Brown’s arms, thanking her.
Granny can feel the emptiness Taïga’s hand left and she clears her throat, ‘Maybe we should sing-’
Mrs. Brown stares in disbelief at her employer over Taïga’s shoulder.
They eat Funfetti several days.
‘I have been thinking about the chest, Granny.’
‘Yes. I know you’re a witch, and I guess that’s something I can’t talk about. But I mean, what if I have a friend come over and play? Could I show her the chest?’
Granny ponders the question. She hasn’t really thought about the implications of having “other” children running around wreaking havoc in the house. But if Taïga starts school, she’ll probably get friends and they’ll want to come over…
‘We could throw some rags in there…’
‘Granny! If I get a real best friend, I wouldn’t want her to play pretend in rags!’
‘We could transform them magically, so that when they look for something suitable it would be there. Among the rags.’
‘Very “cool”. Now finish your plate and go write a letter to your mother.’
‘I’ll just change first. I want to be an ivory princess from Africa!’
Granny insists Taïga should write to her mother regularly, even if she has no idea where Shasta is, and thus cannot post the letters. She thinks it could be good for her grandchild to write down her feelings, keeping up a semblance of dialogue with her missing mom.
Taïga comes running down the stairs, her long dress in a firm grip. ‘Look, Granny! It’s the nicest dress so far, don’t you agree?’
Granny and Mrs. Brown stares at her. ‘That’s not African,’ Granny blurts out, making Taïga’s face fall.
‘She means it’s not ethnically African, but it’s still ivory.’ Mrs. Brown tries.
‘Is it because of the turtleneck? I know it must be warm in Africa, but it was freezing upstairs.’
‘You’d better check on the fireplace on the landing, Mrs. Brown.’
‘It was lit, Granny.’
‘I’ll bring you a hot water bottle and an extra blanket. Now show me how well you write,’ Mrs. Brown says encouraging Taïga to start on her letter.
Taïga chews on her pen and frowns. There is so much she would like to say to her mother, but it’s difficult to write it all down. Most of all she wants to know why her mother left. Maybe it’s because she didn’t want to come here and made a scene at the train station.
With a deep sigh she starts writing.
“I’ll start school after the Christmas holidays. Granny says she cannot keep me at home any longer, just playing and not learning anything useful. She’s grumpy but I think she means well. Mrs. Brown has shown me how to make cookies. She doesn’t speak very often but she is very kind. I love her. When will you come back for me? I miss you so much…”
Taïga spends much time with Mrs. Brown who is delighted to bake and cook for a child. But having the child in question in her kitchen can be quite overwhelming and what started out with Taïga helping with the dishes, soon became the scene of a battlefield. Mrs. Brown gently asks her to take Minuit, who’s lying down on the counter covered in flour, outside…
Taïga would have preferred to stay in the warm kitchen and lick the spoon of the tasty muffin mixture, but she obeys nevertheless. She puts Minuit down on the porch and takes in the huge mound of leaves.
November has brought a taste of winter, and the numerous trees have finally let go of their multicolored leaves. That means raking Granny’s lawn for hours, and start all over again the next day… But it also means huge mounds to jump in!
Wow… what if…? No, Granny would be angry.
Taïga closes her eyes and thinks about how fun it would be to jump in the leaves and throw them in the air… A prickling sensation overcomes her, just like when she unlocked the toy chest.
When she opens her eyes again, leaves are dancing in front of her eyes. She gasps, and they all of a sudden swirls back onto the heap.
Wow! Did I do that?
Granny caught the scene from her study upstairs. Ohmygod!
She runs down the stairs, almost knocking Mrs. Brown over. ‘The afternoon tea is ready in the-’
‘We won’t have tea today! Or maybe later! I give you the day off!’
She grabs her grandchild by the arm in a firm grip and drags her along. Once in the kitchen, she turns the little girl around and scrutinizes her from head to toe, feeling her forehead for temperature, checking the whites of her eyes.
‘Mrs. Brown hovers in the background, a worried frown on her forehead.
‘Granny! What are you doing? What’s wrong?’
‘Shhh… Let me see your tongue.’
Obediently Taïga opens her mouth. Granny stares down her throat, holding her chin in a firm grip. With a sigh of relief, she straightens, saying to Mrs. Brown, ‘Thank the Goddess. She’s not possessed.’
The old housekeeper, lets out a relieved sigh and her wrinkled face lights up in a smile. ‘I’ve just made some cookies-’
‘Not now, Mrs. Brown. Where is the broom?’
Mrs. Brown fetches the broom which was right behind Granny and holds it out to her.
‘It’s not for me, it’s for Taïga.’
‘Oh no, I don’t feel like sweeping the porch right now,’ Taïga mutters.
‘But it’s getting dark outside, Granny.’
‘Exactly! You’re very observant… Run upstairs and put something warm on. We’re going for a ride!’
A ride! Granny has never taken her for a ride! Excitedly she scurries upstairs, hearing Granny call for Mrs. Brown.
Granny takes Taïga to the old graveyard on the outskirts of town. Dusk throws long shadows, and the bare trees seem to reach for them as they weave their way around the ancient gravestones.
Finally Granny stops and hands Taïga the broom. ‘Here. Ride it.’
Taïga holds the broom at arm’s length. ‘Ride the broom?’
‘Yes, go ahead!’
‘You want me to ride the broom!?! Here? In the graveyard?’
‘Yes, yes!’ Granny nods.
‘Okaaay…’ It’s official, Granny has finally lost it… Taïga shakes her head and straddles the broomstick. With a last sideways glance at her grandmother she starts galloping around the graves while Granny impassively watches.
Granny rubs her chin deep in thought. Maybe it’s too soon. But she’s so like me her age, and I flew my first broom at the age of- A scream interrupts Granny’s thoughts, and Taïga swishes past, so low Granny’s hat falls off.
‘Thank the Goddess. She did it!’ Granny scoops up her hat, interrupted by yet another scream and a loud thud. ‘Now let’s teach you how to handle that broom correctly!’
Exhausted and aching everywhere from her numerous bruises, Taïga sleeps like a log that night. Without a bedtime story… and without crying.
In the early morning she’s back up and on her broom. She gallops around the house, riding it like she had yesterday, pretending it’s a real pony. The rain has finally stopped, and the sky is clearing up, the first sunrays filtering over the mountains chases the clouds, bringing the promise of a beautiful day. The muddy backyard is sheltered from view, and the trees are far enough from each other to leave enough room for her to fly around in a circle. She stands a little crouched, holding the broomstick hard in anticipation of the sudden surge of the takeoff.
But nothing happens.
She shakes the broom a little, urging it on.
‘Hey! Go! Err… Faster!’
It had seemed so easy last night, and she regrets not having thought of asking how this flying thing really works. She holds it horizontally, but each time she lets go it just crashes back to the ground. Minuit, who is looking at her from the porch, yawns.
‘All right. I’ll just leave it here then, to get all muddy and swollen with humidity. And moldy, too.’ She sticks out her tongue at the inanimate object and turns on her heels.
A soft whirring that is more a feeling than a sound makes her slowly turn around. The broom is hovering in the air at the height of her hips. Taïga swallows. She circles it carefully, bumping it with her finger. It gives way, like a lifesaver in water. Yielding under the pressure of her hand she pushes it down so she can swing her leg over.
She sways a little as she puts her feet on the thin footrest. As soon as her feet don’t touch the ground anymore, the broom seems to come to life. The wood is warm to the touch, and smooth, almost like a living thing.
What is she supposed to do now? She looks at Minuit, but the cat just blinks and continues licking his paw.
She moves a little, clicking her tongue, but the broom stays perfectly still. What did Granny say now again? Something about thinking where she wants to go.
Well. She wants up.
She doesn’t even have the time to finish her thought before the broom’s nose lifts and the exhilarating rush of the takeoff fills her. Laughing she aims the turret…
It might seem easy to maneuver the broom, but the Taïga’s thoughts are bouncing around and the result is a rather bumpy ride.
She is so concentrated she doesn’t notice Mrs. Brown and Granny discreetly watching her, one moment screaming in fright and the other laughing hard at her attempts to tame the broom.
She doesn’t give up until she’s caked with mud, and the broomstick so slippery she can’t hold on any longer anyway.
Thanksgiving comes and goes, the countdown to Christmas has started. This year, Granny invites the Crumpelbottom’s to share their meal. She doesn’t know anyone with children, so the two teenage witches is the best she can muster. Belinda is nice, she even goes out to build a snowman after dinner, but Bianca spends her time on her cell, texting.
By the end of December, Taïga’s stubbornness pays off. Granny is proud to admit that Taïga handles the broom almost as well as herself.
When Taïga is not out trying to get a hang on riding her broom, she spends her days painting in the winter garden. Granny has come to terms with her grandchild using the old easel, and has started to tend to her plants while the young girl is painting. She even hums along. Discreetly, of course.
After dinner Granny usually has a cup of herbal tea in front of the fire before retiring. She sips the soothing beverage, enjoying a good book. Taïga joins her, struggling with her newly acquired ability to read. Granny frowns, having a tough time concentrating with the young girl mumbling next to her, but she keeps her comments to herself. But as the days goes by, Taïga’s mumbling wears off as she gets better at reading.
When she isn’t reading or painting, Taïga explores the Cove. She’s not allowed into Granny’s “study”, so of course, that is where she sneaks to as soon as she gets the opportunity. The shelves are filled with strange, scary things and the room smells of dried herbs and lavender. There are some strange contraptions the young girl steers clear of, but the abundance of old books can’t be harmful, can they?
She’s trying to read one of the old books with strange and beautiful notes. She draws the symbols on the floor, painstakingly pronouncing the strange words when suddenly there’s a movement under the thick oriental carpet she’s sitting on.
‘What was that?’ she asks Buddy, not expecting an answer. There’s more movement and Taïga approaches carefully, bending over to have a better view. A hissing makes her draw back, just in time to see the black head of a snake appear. Its forked tongue tastes the air. Undulating it moves forward, raising its head and staring fixedly at Taïga. The forked tongue ‘reappears, flicking. Taïga is so scared she can hardly breathe.
A sudden blast of ice and the snake is instantly frozen.
‘Where did that come from?’ Granny stoops to pick the snake up.
‘Oh, Granny! I was so scared!’ Taïga rushes into her grandmother’s arms, hugging her generous waist. Granny holds her hands up, wand in one and frozen snake in the other.
‘Err… If you could let go. I shall have to put this in a jar or something.’
‘A jar?’ Taïga takes a step back, shuddering at the sight of the snake. ‘What for?’
‘I could use the venom.’ She shuffles through the content on one of the well filled shelves. ‘And you should not be here.’ She grabs a glass bottle with a cloudy liquid and looks at her granddaughter. ‘Take your ragdoll and find somewhere else to play.’
‘Yes, Granny.’ Taïga hesitates at the top of the stairs. She would have liked to stay and watch what Granny were going to do with the snake, but the look in her grandmother’s eyes is not negotiable.
She runs down the two flights of stairs to her room. She stops by the magic chest, deciding to play pretend with Buddy and Minuit, as usual.
Christmas approaches and there’s still no word from Shasta. Dutifully Taïga writes to her absentee mother, but tonight Granny can see there’s something troubling her granddaughter.
She pokes the fire, adding a log, discreetly surveying the young girl who’s angrily staring at the blank paper, chewing on her pen. ‘You shouldn’t do that.’
‘Do what? Write to Santa? I told her so!’
‘Yeah. She said as we’re already in December, I should write to Santa…’
Granny pokes the fire, waiting for Taïga to continue.
‘… but I know he doesn’t care about me.’
‘Err… Santa cares about all the children, everywhere.’
Taïga turns on her chair, glaring at her grandmother. ‘Well. Last year, he didn’t. Mom said it was my fault because I didn’t send him a letter to let him know where I was. But the kids next door got lots of presents! So he was there, just next door and I had left a cookie and milk outside, and he just ate it and spilled the milk and left! So I know he doesn’t care about me.’
Granny is suddenly filled with anger. How could her daughter be so stupid? And mean? She adds another log, sending huge flames up the chimney. ‘Err… It wasn’t your fault. A raccoon probably ate the cookie, so Santa never saw it.’
‘Serious, Granny? A raccoon?’
‘In Starlight Shores? On the fourth floor?’
Granny shrugs. ‘Err… Stranger things have happened.’ She bends down to try to see up the chimney, hoping there’s no risk for it to catch fire. ‘You should write your letter anyway. And ask him about the cookie, if it makes you feel better. You don’t have to beg for gifts…’
‘Are you sure he won’t get angry?’
‘Why should he? It’s important to show your feelings, as long as you stay polite.’
Taïga nods thoughtfully. ‘I think I know what to write now.’
‘Good. I have to go out and check on the roof,’ Granny smiles encouragingly and hurries outside to verify that the roof hasn’t caught fire.
Taïga wakes up early, and excited she runs downstairs. Nothing. No decorations, no gifts. Nothing. Granny emerges from the kitchen.
‘You’re up early, dear.’
‘Granny, I knew it!’ Granny looks questioningly at her granddaughter. ‘Santa doesn’t exist!’
‘But it’s only the 24th! Christmas is tomorrow… Don’t rush him!’ Granny smiles to herself.
There’s a lot of magic at work on Christmas night. Both good and evil…
What was that? Taïga freezes at the sound of a low growling from under the bed…
Without thinking she gets down on her knees to check for monsters. The darkness under her bed seems impenetrable.
Suddenly two red eyes are staring malevolently at her from the pitch black confines.
Screaming, Taïga picks up Buddy and rushes out from the room, straight into the arms of Mrs. Brown. Hiccupping, she tells her about the red eyed monster under her bed. Mrs. Brown precedes her into her room and huffing and puffing, she gets down on her knees to check for monsters. She uses a little lamp torch but the only thing they both can see moving around are some inoffensive dust balls.
Taïga decides to sleep with Buddy, anyway. Just in case.
It has become a habit to check on her grandchild every night before going to bed, and tonight is not an exception. As usual, Granny tucks her in, but tonight something is different. She hesitates…
Something stirs in her old heart as she furtively leans over, softly planting a kiss on the sleeping child’s forehead.
‘Goodnight little princess, tomorrow is Christmas…’
That night, Granny doesn’t go directly to bed after making sure her granddaughter is soundly asleep. Thinking about her granddaughter’s sad face when she explained that Santa hadn’t found her last year, she returns downstairs, firmly decided to give Santa a hand.
‘It won’t do if he misses out on the fact that there’s a child in the house…’ Grunting she pushes the furniture in the den to liberate space, trying to remember all the Christmas spells she could possibly think of.
She liberates a corner large enough for what she has in mind. Drawing her wand, she racks her brain and clears her throat.
‘Christmas tree so green…’
But the Christmas tree doesn’t really fill her expectations. The recipient is nice though, but it’s seems larger than the tree itself. No, this is definitely not how she remembers her childhood Christmas trees, nor the ones they had when Shasta grew up.
She waves her wand again, sending forward a rain of multicolored sparks.
‘Fir from the forest so large and proud,
Touch the ceiling with your gleaming star…’
Her wand draws complicated patterns, spilling glittery stars all over the first floor. Singing, Granny brings forward a brightly lit tree, multicolored socks, even a mistletoe… And, of course, presents.
Panting she sits for a while on the stairs, admiring her handiwork. Her eyes are drawn to an old cardboard box with discarded holiday lights by the door. Grumbling she rises and brings the heavy box outside. Alone in the moonlight, she swings her wand, hanging the lights and making them work. With heavy steps she mounts the stairs and unusually tired she falls into bed, snoring before her head hits the pillows…
Dawn points its nose, giving a pink hue to the pristine snow…
As most children on the planet, Taïga is up early on Christmas Day.
She stops on the last step, taking in the Christmas decoration, but breaks into a run when she sees the glittering Christmas tree with all the brightly colored gifts under it.
‘Granny! There are gifts under the tree! Can I open them! Are they all for me?’
Granny and Mrs. Brown are awakened by the joyous cries from below.
‘You did it.’ Mrs. Brown murmurs under her breath as she tries to keep up with Granny down the stairs.
‘Yes, dear. Did you ever doubt me?’ Granny murmurs back, tightening her robe.
‘I think this one’s for you, Granny! And this one’s for Mrs. Brown!’ Taïga is over excited, shaking the boxes and reading the tags.
She tears off the paper on the biggest gift first, uncovering a rocking horse, ‘I just love him, his name is Bandit!’ then she happily discovers a backpack, ‘Now I just need books to fill it with,’ a Barbie van, new pj’s, a handmade cardigan and dress from Mrs. Brown with assorted mittens, a small box with Hershey kisses…
‘Do you think I overdid it?’ Granny throws a quick glance at Mrs. Brown who just shakes her head.
They share a succulent Christmas meal, spending the day together in front of the fireplace. Taïga plays with her new toys, Granny starts on the book Taïga has bought her and Mrs. Brown is deeply engrossed in her Christmas present, a French cookbook with typical recipes.
Taïga studies her grandmother. She’s dressed in a beautiful dark green velvet outfit, and has pinned her long grey hair high on her head. For once she’s not wearing her ugly hat, and Taïga is surprised at how beautiful she is. ‘I love you, Granny. This was my best Christmas ever!’
Granny looks up a little surprised. ‘Err… Mine too.’
‘I’m just sorry Mom wasn’t here. I miss her so much…’
Granny bends down to pick up Minuit so Taïga can’t see the tears in her eyes. ‘I miss her too,’ she mumbles. More than she will ever know…
Part I – End of Chapter 03