01-15 Fire

Morning dawns on the little town of Bigwood Falls. The sparse sunlight filtering through the beautifully colored leaves is making the Cove seem even darker and older than usual. Taïga is up early and having breakfast with Granny. Excited, she keeps talking about what will happen tomorrow, about the secret costume her grandmother helped her fix and all the fun she’ll have with her friends.

Granny tones her out, sipping on her Earl Grey tea. Tomorrow is Samhain. An important day on the old Celtic calendar, and of utmost importance to witches all over the world. She will as usual spend the day with the Northern Cove, going through rituals and, of course, socialize. She will ask for the other witches’ help to take out the Lemur, and that’s something they’ll have to do after dark. And she will also discreetly ask around to see if someone has ever heard of loopholes in a location spell… She hopes Augusta will be there, she’s got all kinds of unusual herbs in her inventory, and Granny would like to grow some wolfs bane. Just in case.

‘-have you bought enough sweets?

Granny looks up from her steaming cup of tea, ‘Sweets?’

‘Yes, Granny. It’s very important. It’s for the kids who’ll come trick and treating tomorrow night!’

‘Err… Yes, of course. Trick or treat.’ Granny had forgotten all about this commercial aspect of Halloween, or Samhain as she prefers calling it. Sweets… She has so much to prepare for tomorrow’s meeting and now she’ll have to go shopping this very morning.

‘And when shall we start decorating?’ Taïga asks.

‘Decorating? I think our house looks spooky enough as it is.’

Taïga frowns, she has never thought of the Cove as looking spooky. ‘We’ll have to decorate! Otherwise the other kids won’t come knocking for sweets.’

But that would be just perfect, Granny thinks. But she can’t let her grandchild down. Last year she taught Taïga how to carve pumpkins, the child could start on that while she went to town for sweets.

‘We could use Mrs. Brown’s stuff in the basement.’ Taïga continues.

Mrs. Brown was quite fond of traditions, so it seems logical that she had some Halloween decorations stocked away in the basement. Usually, Granny hardly noticed the holidays passing: She spent the dark months in her study, only coming downstairs for the principal meals. Mrs. Brown brought her a tray more often than not, as she frequently forgot to eat.

Granny goes outside to fetch some pumpkins while Taïga does the dishes after breakfast. The huge vegetables are extremely heavy. After carrying one and almost smashing it to pieces when it slipped out of her hands as she tried to put it down on the porch without breaking her back, she gives in to using magic.

Taïga comes rushing as soon as she’s finished her chores. Wide-eyed, she watches the heavy pumpkins float weightless in the air, dancing and bobbing in rhythm to Granny’s movements with her wand and singsong incantation. Ducking under the steady flow of bright orange balls, she catches her Grandmother’s warning glance.

Tentatively she pushes one of them with her finger. It’s just like touching a balloon, it gets out of line, but continues bobbing forward.

Laughing and dancing, she accompanies the pumpkins on their way up onto the porch. She joins Granny in the incantation, giving it a new rhythm inspired of the fairy godmother in Cinderella’s Bippedy boppedy bom, accelerating the flow and making the pumpkins dance higher. Granny can’t help smiling at the young girl’s enthusiasm, letting her take over the singing all together. Laughing they stop when the heap gets so big it reaches the roof. There’s no way they’ll use as many pumpkins, even if Mrs. Brown had still been among them to cook and do whatever she did with the abundance of Granny’s garden. She decides to bring as many as possible into town when she goes shopping for candy. Maybe dump them at the fair or somewhere else suitable…

Together they’re going through the three cardboard boxes marked Halloween, when the doorbell chimes. Granny is actually relieved to see the Vargas Brothers on the porch, eager to help out. She hands out not too sharp knives and some old newspapers for them to protect the wood on the porch from getting stained, and gestures towards the still impressive heap of pumpkins.

‘Go ahead – you can carve as many as you want!’

The kids settle on the porch and start carving Jack O’Lanterns. After all the pumpkins Taïga carved last year, she’s pretty good at it now. Their friendly talk gradually dies, leaving them concentrated, working on their masterpieces in companionable silence.

Granny watches them for a while, making sure they know how to handle the knives. Reassured, she leaves the Cove to buy the famous candy and get rid of their stock of pumpkins…

Derek dries his knife against his jeans and stretches, ‘I’m done! Do you need any help?’

‘Yeah, I think my knife is stuck…’ Taïga grimaces, pulling at the handle.

‘Let me see…’ Swiftly he draws out the stuck knife. ‘We have to head home, I guess mom wants some pumpkins carved too. She makes a good pie, I’ll bring some tomorrow to your Grams.’

‘But I’m not done yet!’ Teddy protests.

Taïga brushes away a strand of hair falling into her eyes, leaving a smear of orange on her forehead. Derek reaches out to brush it away, but Granny, who’s back from town and checking on the children’s progress, knocks on the window, making him stop with his hand in midair.

He smiles apologetically at the old lady over his shoulder, ‘We were just leaving, Mrs. Grey.’

But Granny ignores him. She walks briskly over to the door and looks sternly at them all. Teddy swallows, and swipes at a stain on his protective glasses, but only succeeds in smearing them even more.

Straightening her back, Granny clears her throat, ‘Lunch is soon ready. For all of you.’

She closes the door behind her without waiting for an answer. And where did that come from? Why on earth did she invite them to lunch? Grumbling about her own stupidity, she retraces her steps back to the kitchen. She remembers Mrs. Brown talking about Spaghetti Bolognese, which is apparently a kid’s favorite, and it seems easy enough to swing together. At least it did when she absentmindedly listened to the old housekeeper rambling on about it…

But when she checks the freezer it’s deceivingly empty.

No meat. Of course. Mac and cheese?

But there’s no cheese left neither.

Making do with what she finds in the cupboard, she thinks of the many ways there are to take care of the fruits and vegetables from her garden. Mrs. Brown made both jam and conserves apart from apparently deep freezing them. There are still some glass jars with exotic sounding names like ratatouille and pesto, which she grumbling mixes in a copper pan, tasting it now and then. Satisfied with the result, she calls the children in to have lunch: Spaghetti with veggie sauce. Voilà!

Granny is still struggling with the worldliness of household chores, discovering new things Mrs. Brown took care of every day. Not only the bills, decorating and cooking, but also cleaning and shopping. Which she herself did for the first time this morning, but of course she had not checked the fridge or the cupboards first, so she only brought back the famous sweets. She realizes she has to make lists so she won’t forget anything…

The children are happily unaware of the trouble the old lady has gone through to make the simple veggie sauce. They dig into their plates appreciating pasta as all kids do, wolfing down their portions without actually tasting it. Granny can’t help feeling pleased when they ask for second servings, and puts some more water to boil to accommodate the ravenous youngsters.

There’s no dessert, though. Granny found a recipe for pumpkin pie when she went through the cookbooks earlier, and she’s eager to test it. There’s no shortage of pumpkins if she doesn’t succeed her first try. But there’s no reason for her to fail if she follows the detailed instructions in the margins about spices and such. So while Granny sets to work in the kitchen, the kids return outside to clean up after their carving.

As soon as the porch is reasonably clean and the carved pumpkins displayed in a happy array along the pathway to the house, the Vargas boys leave to help their mom get things ready for Halloween. Taïga looks after their departing figures, then she finishes her own handiwork. She can’t believe it’s been a whole year since she came to live with Granny and she’s so excited for tomorrow. It will be her first Halloween with friends her age!

*******************************

Taïga is left on her own at the Cove the next day, as Granny sets off to her meeting with the North Coven early. She only gets back to check rapidly on her granddaughter at dusk. Parking the car, she can see a couple of disguised kids. Recognizing the dinosaur costume and the size of the pirate, she knows it’s the Vargas boys who are already there to pick Taïga up.

Good. Like that she can leave immediately to get the expulsion of the Lemur from the cemetery done.

The dinosaur looks expectantly at her as she walks up the steps, ‘Trick or treat, Mrs. Grey?’

Granny mumbles an inaudible answer, heading for the bowl of sweets just inside the door. Better get this over with, so she can leave again.

‘Nice outfit Mrs. Grey! What are you? A witch?’ Derek asks, making Granny flinch.

She can’t wait to get rid of the nosy children at her door, ‘Go ahead Taïga, I still have some important matters to take care of, but I’ll put the sweets right outside for the children. Hurry up and leave now!’

It doesn’t take long for the little girl to jump into her new costume, a bumble bee, and rush outside again. Granny tut-tuts at the sight of her grandchild clumsily rushing downstairs in the ungainly, but cute, outfit.

‘Be careful, dear child, and make sure to get home before nightfall.’

‘But, Granny! It’ll be more exciting after dark! All my friends are allowed to stay out at least until 9. Isn’t that true?’ She searches Derek and Teddy’s faces. Both boys nods.

Granny frowns. Will she be back before nine? Probably not. She gives in to her granddaughter’s pleas. ‘You can stay with your friends then, until they have to go home. But I want someone to accompany you.’ She throws a meaningful glance at the boys who nods solemnly.

‘No worries, Mrs. Grey. We’ll walk her home.’

Satisfied, but still a little worried, she waves them off, trying to keep a straight face as she watches Teddy and her granddaughter struggle to get on their bikes with their awesome bulks.

Taïga has trouble keeping her balance, laughing so hard at herself and Teddy she almost falls off her bike. This is going to be so much fun!

They join some other kids in town, and start knocking on doors, giggling and holding out their baskets for candy.

Felicity catches up on them a bit further down Huckleberry Lane, outside a beautiful pink mansion.

‘It’s Zoe’s place! And Zack’s. I hope their parents let them out tonight. They’ve got the best candy in town but they are terribly strict with their kids,’ Felicity informs Taïga as they walk up the well-kept lane. ‘Who painted your face, Teddy? You look awesome!’ Felicity scratches her brown beard, inspecting Teddy’s uniformly green painted face as they wait for someone to answer the door.

‘Mum did! She’s good, huh!’ Teddy growls and claws at the air.

Derek grimaces at them, making his painted skull face seem terrifying.

Felicity focuses on him for a brief moment, ‘And you – I wouldn’t have recognized you, wasn’t it for your eyes! But I think you should have worn a pirate hat, though.’ She squints at the shock of black hair escaping from his bandanna. ‘Is all that hair real?’ She reaches out but Derek dodges her hand.

‘Hey, do I ask about your beard!?!’

The door opens on Mr. and Mrs. Durwood. Zoe and Zack are hovering in the background, and Taïga can hear her classmate trying to convince their mother to let them go trick or treating with the other kids. Zoe is dressed like a purple astronaut, giggling and trying to recognize her disguised friends.

Felicity was right, the Durwood kids aren’t allowed out before Vilhelmina’s older brother, Waylon,who’s carrying little two-year old Gator around on his first Halloween, promises to stay with the younger kids, keeping an eye on them. Zoe is overjoyed to finally be let out, thanking Waylon profusely as they continue down the street. Zack insists that it was all thanks to him, but his twin sister shuts him up, claiming that he would need real superpowers to accomplish such a task, not just only a stupid costume! Zack is miffed, but follows the little group as they all continue running from door to door collecting candy. Taïga is amazed at the sheer quantity of sweets, chewing gum and chocolate that find the way into her basket. At this pace, they’ll soon have enough candy to open a store!

Waylon is constantly checking his watch, eager to join his teen friends. They finally head towards the MacDuff’s old Victorian home by the river where Faith and her fearsome brothers are waiting. James and Joe are sitting motionless on rocking chairs by the door, feigning to be creepy decorations and scaring the hell out of any kid venturing onto the porch. They let their little sister and her friends get as far as to ring the bell, waiting for their reaction when their father answers the door.

It opens on a funny bunny and a dreadful monster.

‘Trick or treat, Mr. MacDuff!?!’ they yell in unison, holding their bags forward.

Little Gator screams of fright, letting go of his basket as he tries to crawl away.

Felicity stops him, laughing, ‘Don’t be afraid, he’ll give you candy. Look!’ She points at her mother, dressed up as a pink bunny.

Thumb firmly stuck in his mouth, he holds on to Felicity’s coat, keeping a watchful eye on the candy giving monster, at the same time as he tries to watch the huge pregnant bunny who’s jumping around making grimaces and funny noises…

Serena Wilkins and her BFF have also arrived. Knocking on doors being too childish, they don’t even have any baskets, counting on getting their share of candy from the other kids.

Zoe hates their guts and unwillingly lets the uppity princesses have some of her hard earned sweets. Serena takes a fistful but freezes when she sets eye on something far more interesting than candy. With fierce resolution and a lame excuse she picks up her sheer ball gown, leaving her friend ransacking poor Zoe’s candy basket. Princess-like she strides over to Derek, making a big show out of batting her eyelashes and fluffing her hair in her attempt to catch his attention.

But she doesn’t have the time to say much before Zack is coming over, trying to be interesting. It might not be such a clever move touching her elaborate hairdo, though, even if the gesture is accompanied by compliments, and the snotty girl rudely tells him to eff off.

‘Why don’t we have a sleepover at my place?’ Serena purrs, turning her back on the annoying boy. She’s actually talking to Derek, but Zack picks up the proposition, hollering it out to everyone.

The idea is too great to be ignored, and they all decide to spend the night at Serena’s place, finishing off the candy and watching horror movies.

Serena is seething, but at least Derek will be there, and she’ll corner him at one moment or another. He can’t seriously be interested in a kid dressed up as a fat bumblebee, can he? No, definitely not. With a wave of her hand, she motions for her suite to follow her, turning her back on Derek and Taïga who head in the opposite direction to pick up their bikes from the ditch were they left them.

The MacDuff residence being situated on the outskirts of town, it’s logically the last stop for all trick or treating kids. The teens wait for the last of them to disappear, before taking off too. Waylon has forgotten all about looking after Zoe and Zack, excited to go to the Halloween ball at their High School. But first they’ll drop little Gator off…

Taïga struggles hard to keep Derek’s pace. Her little pumpkin bag with candy is swinging from the handle bars and threatening to tip over at every pothole in the road.

‘C’mon Taïga. We don’t have all night!’

Derek is waiting outside while she runs up to her room, throwing her PJ’s and toothbrush in her school rucksack together with all the candy. She hesitates before slipping out of her costume and into her old jeans and a sweater. She’s had enough of stumbling around not seeing her feet.

‘There’s no way I can carry the sleeping bag too,’ she huffs, laden with stuff.

‘No worries, I’ll take it.’ Derek slings her backpack over his shoulder, fastening the sleeping bag on his bike, ‘Did you tell your Grams?’

‘No, she’s away the whole evening. But I left a note…’

‘Here,’ he fishes out his cell from his pocket, ‘text her…’

‘Are you crazy? Granny with a cell?’

Derek grins, ‘You’re right. She’s probably more at ease with a messenger pigeon!’

‘Aww. You’re mean, Derek!’

Bantering they leave the Cove…

Granny is arriving not much later, exhausted after expelling the Lemur. She nods approvingly at the lighted pumpkins as she follows the festively lighted path towards the dark house.

A piece of paper is nailed to the door. She snatches it off, thinking it’s some kind of prank.

“Granny,

Sleepover at Serena’s!

Love, Taiga”

Smiling to herself, Granny lets herself in. She’s not happy about the sleep over, but at least her granddaughter left a note.

She stops on the threshold, sniffing. What is that smell?

At the same time as her brain registers the fire, she can see it. Running into the den, she racks her brain for an ice spell. But the flames are spreading too fast. Like malevolent tongues they are already licking the stack of wood and the mats in the vicinity of the blazing fireplace.

Suddenly she can hear the crackling of fire behind her as well. Granny is shocked to find the whole ground floor alight! The windows, the floor boards and the furniture are consumed by the roaring flames.

Bravely she strides into the inferno, reaching for her wand and chanting. But as soon as she puts out some of the flames, it seems the fire is getting more intense, burning even more fiercely somewhere else. She quickly realizes even magic is not enough to put an end to this blazing conflagration that hungrily tears away at the wooden structure of the Cove. Raising her eyes, she watches in horror the flames licking the ceiling. She can hear the fire roar upstairs…

Oh, no! It can’t be too late!

With a desperate scream she rushes towards the stairs, ‘OhMyGod. My Elixirs! And the spell books!’

The flames are snaking down the ramp and she hesitates, retracing her steps towards the old Cove’s only telephone. Covering her face with her long skirt and coughing, she gropes through the thick smoke for the phone at the side table. Breathless she dials 911 before heading for the stairs once again.

Fighting the heat, she reaches the second floor. She must get up to the attic in time to save her treasured spell books and magic paraphernalia. The fire gains intensity on the ground floor, fueled by the wooden paneling and the stuffing in the old furniture. The first floor is also a blazing furnace and the devastating flames are soon spreading to the second floor as well. Within minutes almost the whole cove is ablaze.

Granny hurriedly throws her most cherished things into a wooden chest, tripping on the now hot floorboards and fumbling through the smoke for her things. Eyes burning, she can hear the windows downstairs crack and splinter through the deafening roar of the fire.

Hastily she casts a spell on the large box, sending it flying through the only window and away into the dark. She leans out into the night, filling her lungs with the chilly air, but she knows she can’t get out this way without getting hurt, or worse. If only she had had her broom, but it’s burning on the first floor. With a last deep breath, she closes the window behind her, knowing the flow of air will speed up the fire.

She tries to reach the stairs, but impossible, the shattered windows downstairs having fueled the fire even more and the heat is now too intense. Like a dragon it’s breathing in her face and she backs further into the attic, watching in horror as one of the huge wooden rafters comes tumbling down.

Her last conscious thoughts are of her granddaughter, thanking the goddess for the sleepover party…

Taïga and Derek are on their way back to the Cove to pick up Taïga’s toothbrush when the wailing of sirens reaches them. Derek is still trying to persuade her to use tooth paste on a finger like he himself would have done. And like he probably will do tonight by the way. The young girl refuses to listen to him, thinking about all the candy she’s already eaten and probably will eat before the night is over. Arguing, they are overtaken by the firetrucks. They have to jump off their bikes and retreat to the other side of the ditch to let the two huge engines enough room to manoeuver past them and onto the dirt track leading to the Cove. From the distance, they can see a pink halo over the treetops and thick smoke billowing into the dark skies, obstructing the thin crescent of the moon.

‘OMG! It must be the Cove!’ Taïga doesn’t hesitate. She gets back on her bike and starts pedaling after the wailing engines.

 

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Part I – End of Chapter 15

You have just finished the first 15 Chapters of The Grey Witches. You can just continue reading the next Chapter

Or maybe you’d like to find out something about where the next Chapters will take Taïga and Granny…

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