This year’s Halloween story is another “prequel” of sorts about Elizabeth Marquez, hero of my series Agents of Sorcery. It shows what happens when a grown-up dressed as a witch visited then sixteen-year old Elizabeth Marquez on Halloween. It also reveals an important episode from Liz’s life that took place earlier that year as well. I hope you enjoy it!
You can read last year’s story, “Halloween Duty,” here. Thanks for reading!
Dale Ivan Smith
“What, what are you?” I sputtered. I brushed my bangs from my eyes, and looked around frantically.
A tiny person-shaped cloud of silver sparkles floated at the foot of the couch, outlined in purple. I sat up, scooting away from the figure. The copy of Teen I was reading slipped from my fingers and flopped on the floor with a bang.
The sparkle thing vanished. I blinked, and rubbed my eyes. Maybe it had just been a trick of the light. Or, maybe it was a flashback to that afternoon in June. There’d been sparkly things there, too, and fluttering gossamer wings.
I swallowed. I wasn’t supposed to think about that day.
I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans, then fingered the charm necklace Doctor Brown had given me, to help me think about other things.
I thought about saying the mantra he’d taught me. Before I could begin, a sudden gong sound broke the silence, like the peal of a giant bell. I jumped off the couch, my heart pounding.
It sounded again. It was the doorbell.
Tonight was Halloween but it wasn’t quite dark yet, and I’d been sure to turn off the light, so there shouldn’t be any Trick or Treaters.
I was all alone in the house. Mom was back east visiting my sister Clara, who was still in the special hospital. Dad was at a special university conference in Seattle, so it was just me. But I was sixteen; I could take care of myself. Maybe it was a delivery, but I hadn’t ordered anything, and Mom and Dad always told me when something was supposed to come. If it were a door-to-door sales person, I’d just wait. Mom had clearly visible “no soliciting” signs outside. Not one, but three. That was my mother.
The doorbell rang again.
Dang it. Maybe I’d forgotten and left the light on. But it was still too early.
I crept to the door. The light switch for the outside light was in the off position. I stood up on my tiptoes to peek through the peephole. Being five-foot-nothing made things difficult, lots of things. I was one of the shortest girls in my high school, and our front door was a tall one.
A grown-up wicked witch stood on the porch. She looked like she’d just stepped out of the Wizard of Oz. The point of her tall, floppy black hat bobbed as she looked around. Her skin was green, just like the Wicked Witch of the West.
She held a wicker basket by its arching handle. I couldn’t see what was in the basket.
The witch turned to face the door. Her red painted lips curved into a huge smile and she fluttered long eye lashes. “Please open the door. I know you are in there, Elizabeth.” I could hear her clearly, even through the thick wood.
I shivered. She knew my name.
She cackled, just like the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz movie. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
Her eyes reminded me of someone I knew.
Her smile softened. “I didn’t mean to scare you, Beth,” she said, her voice suddenly kind.
It was Grandmother Mary. Only Mary called me Beth. My father and my friends called me Liz. Mother always used my full name.
I unlocked the door and opened it. “Grandma?” I asked.
Mary nodded. “I thought I’d surprise you. A little surprise to go with a surprise visit.”
Her dress fluttered as she gestured at the high ceiling and huge living room. “Wow, this is a big house.”
I shuffled my feet. It was a big house. We’d only been in it for a couple of months. Mom wanted a change for us, after Clara had to go into that special hospital, after the—I pushed the memory away. The therapist mom had me see said dwelling on the memory of what had happened with Clara was “counterproductive.” I saw him twice a week.
His hypnosis helped dim the memory of that afternoon in the garden, last summer. When gossamer wings appeared and the air smelled so sweet and…“ I pushed the memory away.
Mary’s head was cocked to one side, reminding me of a crow. “What are you doing, honey?” she asked.
She looked at the couch. “How about we sit?”
She stepped over the fallen magazine and arranged her black skirts as she sat down on the couch.
I plucked up Teen, put it on an end table.
“I’m sorry about what happened to Clara,” Mary said.
“I’m not supposed to think about it,” I stammered.
Mary’s face became concerned. “Did Fiona tell you that?” She asked, using my mother’s name.
“Yeah. She and the therapist.”
Her dyed black eyebrows shot up. “She did?” Mary sighed. “You can’t suppress a negative event. Fiona should know that.”
She took my hand in hers, the long red add-on fingernails stroking my skin. “I’m sorry, dear.”
I bit my lip, tears welling up. This was stupid.
I pulled my hand away. “About what? You come here out of the blue, dressed up like the Wicked Witch of the West, how come?”
Mary smiled gently. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be here sooner.”
I felt a pang of guilt. Mary had come to our old house right after what had happened to Clara, but there’d been an argument and she’d had to go back across the country to Cape Cod.
“But why as a witch?” I asked. “I wanted to see you.” I had missed her. Her ditsy, spacey, happy attitude. She never worried. Unlike my mother, who was always concerned. She never called it worry, she was too button-downed for that. Mary was a free spirit.
“For two reasons.” She tilted her head and gave me a sly, sideways smile. “First, to help you remember.”
I rubbed a tear from my eye. “I’m not supposed to remember. Doctor Brown said I needed to let go of those memories. He helps me using hypnosis. Even taught me this little chant.” I closed my eyes. “Let go, let go, let…go.” It had sounded so stupid at first. I stroked the charm necklace.
“That’s an interesting piece of jewelry,” Mary said.
I opened my eyes. My face grew warm. “It helps,” I mumbled, suddenly embarrassed. “It’s stupid.”
Mary lifted the necklace. “No, it’s not. It’s sneaky.”
“Sneaky?” I asked. “I don’t understand.” I twiddled the necklace. The urge to chant Doctor Brown’s little mantra tugged at me.
Mary sighed, let go of the necklace. “Don’t you remember when I came dressed as a witch to your Halloween parties?”
I nodded. “You came as a different witch every year.” One year she wore a blonde wig and a too-tight bustier that made my dad’s face go red all the way up to his hairline. Another year, she came as a crone. Another as an ancient Greek witch. Another as a witch from Macbeth, with an actual iron cauldron on wheels. Wheels. I realized I was smiling.
She stroked my cheek. “It’s good to see you smile.”
“You just came to remind me of when you used to dress up as a witch?”
She shook her head. “There’s another reason.” She became serious, and her gaze searched my face.
I bit my lip. Mary was never serious.
“What reason?” I asked.
“To help you see the truth, and to understand what happened to you and Clara is part of something much bigger.”
“Let go,” I muttered, then caught myself. My fingers stroked the necklace.
“You have to decide whether you’re going to see the truth, or keep it hidden from you.” Her tone was kind. “It’s up to you. But you’ll have to take off that necklace if you do.”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
She giggled. “You know, pull it over your head and put it on the table.”
She seemed more sixteen right then than I felt.
“It’s a joke, honey,” she said.
I blew out the air I’d been holding in, and nodded again.
“But it’s also the truth.”
“But what do you mean?” I asked again.
“I’ve already said more than I should have.”
I crossed my arms. “Grandma, you came here dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West, telling me you want me to remember, and to see the truth. You’ve already done more than my mom would think you should have. So, please tell me.”
“You’ll have to take off the necklace and be ready to feel afraid again.”
“What’s the big deal with the necklace?”
“It’s not what it seems,” she said. “And it’s part of the truth.”
My eyes narrowed. “Not what it seems?”
“Take it off and find out,” she replied.
This was dumb. But my fingers didn’t want to take it off. Doctor Brown said it would help. Mom said it would help.
Help me forget.
“I’m supposed to forget,” I mumbled.
“Only if you want to.” She waggled her fingers, and I suddenly remembered all the magic tricks she used to do. Making things disappear, pulling a quarter out from behind my ear, card tricks, all those things she did when she came dressed as a witch to my kid Halloween parties. She used to read my fortune, too, and then it would happen. Usually little things, like finding something I’d lost or discovering a super-rare Pokemon card was suddenly in my collection, stuff like that.
I remembered the sense that something tiny and invisible scurried around me when she did those tricks.
She smiled. “You’re remembering. But that’s only part.” Her smile faded. “But, if you take it off, you might feel fear. You certainly won’t see the world the same way ever again.”
The necklace was warm between my fingers. I could keep it on and let what happened with Clara fade away.
“Mom told me to keep it on. Why?” I asked.
“You’ll only know why if you take it off. And if you do, you and I will both be in hot water with her.”
Big deal. I was always in hot water with my mother over something.
I took a deep breath, and began pulling the necklace off. It suddenly felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. It didn’t want to leave my neck, I realized. I pulled harder, raising it over my head and flinging it away from me.
Mary’s hand flashed out and grabbed it. “Gotcha,” she whispered. She looked at me. “I’m proud of you, Beth,” she said.
That day in the garden was hot for June. Clara sat cross-legged next to the Irises and sang this song she said she made up, a song to summon a fairy, she said.
I said fairies weren’t real.
Then it appeared, the size of a flicker, a little person with fluttering gossamer wings that sparkled. Sparkled in the sunlight.
“You have the blood,” it sang to us. “You have the sight. You can help make me real for always.”
I shuddered, eyes shut, and pushed the memory away.
A hand squeezed my shoulder. “It’s okay,” Mary cooed. “It’s all right. I’m here.”
I sobbed out what I’d seen then as she held me and rocked me back and forth.
When I’d finished, she held me for a long while in silence, still rocking me back and forth.
“You saw a fairy that Clara had created. You see, honey, the world is much wider and deeper than most people dream of. Mana flows all around us, a fifth force unseen but real. Our dreams, our nightmares, our fears and desires, all of things we collectively hold in our subconscious, use the mana to create manifestations, supernatural creatures– like the fairy.
The fairy. It had swooped at Clara and landed on her head. She had frozen, and her eyes had turned silver. Silver. The fairy sang a terrible song. “You are mine, mine forever more.” I’d screamed and then there’d only been blackness. When I came to, Clara and the fairy were gone, and mom said there’d been a gas line leak, and that Clara had been poisoned. I wasn’t allowed to see her.
Mary was outlined in purple. Her basket had a crystal ball in it, a crystal ball that shone gold from within. The necklace dangling from Mary’s hand, for an instant, it looked like a silver snake, scales moving as it slithered in her hand. Then it was just a necklace again.
“You are seeing the truth, sweetheart.”
“How can I see this stuff?” I stammered.
“Because it’s in your blood,” she replied. “Some people have a knack for seeing the Hidden. I do, my daughter does, and my granddaughters do, as well. Some on your father’s side do, too, but it’s not for me to say who they are.”
“You’re an actual witch?” My jaw dropped and my eyes widened. I waved my arms. “And you say it runs in the family?”
“Mom, too?” I shook my head.
“No, she’s a sorcerer who wants to be a wizard.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
Her smile returned. “But you’re beginning to.”