"I don't know that there are real ghosts and goblins, but there are always more trick-or-treaters than neighborhood kids" -Robert Brault *** Somewhere in one of the darker corners of the world, a witch and a ghoul stood at the entrance of a cemetery at midnight, and both of them were afraid.
They weren't afraid of what was inside: Rather, it was everything outside that scared them. "Mark my words," said Stokes, shuffling his old undertaker's boots in the dirt, "tomorrow will be the last Halloween for all of us." A night breeze stirred the tree branches and the old cemetery gate creaked, as if in agreement.
Anne knew he was right. There was something in the air that year, some quality of the night or the moonlight or just the entire world, that suggested terrible finality. Almost all of the old magic was gone. It was a miracle any of them had made it to this Halloween; expecting another would be hoping for too much. She chewed her nails; they were looking ragged these days, tending toward the bloody side. "Are we the only ones?" she said.
"Where's the countess?" "Dead," said a voice from the shadows, and there, stepping out from the hollow of a tree, was Jezibaba, an ancient hag with a hump that could capsize a ship.
How long she'd been there was anyone's guess. Anne had sent for her, but she was still surprised to see that the other witch had come. "Dead and gone," she said again, "and the word has only just come. I was the first to know, and now I've told you, so together we make three who know: Dear Liz has gone the way of dust and darkness, and there will be no more midnight sabbats or crimson baths for her wherever she is now.
It would bring a tear to my eye, if witches could cry." Anne gasped. Stokes took off his hat (a battered stovepipe affair that he'd stolen from a particularly famous grave) and lowered his head.
"How?" said Anne. "The rumors disagree," said Jezibaba, stopping to light a pipe, the orange flames reflecting on her iron teeth. "Some say a mortal believer found her coffin and opened it, exposing her to the daylight. But others say…" She didn't have to finish.
Anne knew: Elizabeth had left her own coffin open, because she'd given up hope. She wouldn't have been the first. Anne dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief, though she did it out of habit rather than necessity, for of course she couldn't cry either.
She'd known Elizabeth for nearly 400 years, and just like that she was gone. Was life so short? "'Do not stand at my grave and weep; I am not there.
I do not sleep,'" said Stokes. "We'll never see her like again." "Was she the last one?" Anne said. "There are a few old bloodsuckers still knocking around in Romania, and at least one that I know in this country," said Stokes. "But there can't be many. My kind runs into them less and less as we till the midnight soil.
Of course, there are few enough of us left either." "Few enough of any of us," said Jezibaba.
"Few vampires, few witches, few ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties to go bump in the night. And soon there'll be none. It's only going to be the three of us here tonight, so let's not keep burning moonlight. We've a job to do, don't we?" Anne stood up straighter. Jezibaba's presence restored some sense of spirit. The First Witch was rarely seen outside the old country anymore.
She had traveled a long way through what must have been great trouble, but the stubborn squint of her eye was not diminished. She'll be the last of us, Anne thought. When we've all have gone to dust like the countess, Baba will still be here for a hundred more years. Anne opened the cemetery gate (wincing at the touch of iron) and the three of them went in. Three old monsters, alone and afraid in the dark.
Anne led the way, with lantern raised. Jezibaba walked at the back, looking over her shoulder, for she could see in the dark better than in the light. Stokes took up the middle, which was awkward since he'd grown enormously rotund in recent years (he had few brothers and sisters to compete with for meals anymore), and the bones in the pockets of his coat and trousers rattled with each step. It wasn't a particularly big graveyard or a particularly old one, but it was still a sacred place, and good enough for their purposes tonight.
Along the way they exchanged gossip: The final Massachusetts coven had parted, their circle forever broken. Now there were only three covens in the entire world stocked with genuine witches rather than just humans playing at being "pagans." Stokes reported that Germany's last werewolf was living incognito in a pen in the Berlin zoo, and that several prominent haunted houses, including the abandoned sanitarium in Waverly Hills and the Himuro Mansion in Tokyo, had somehow lost their ghosts and become spontaneously unhaunted overnight.
And it had been six years, Anne told them, since the Sleepy Hollow horseman had appeared for a midnight ride. "Where do you suppose ghosts go when they no longer haunt us?" said Stokes. "If we knew where they'd gone, they wouldn't be gone," Jezibaba said. Anne set the lantern down on a grave and turned it down as low as it would go.
They had come to the exact center of the graveyard. It was a good place: tall trees, long shadows, and a hint of fog. Jezibaba brought out the offering: the fleece of a black ram. They spread it on the ground. It was up to Anne to say the words, since this was all her idea. She had never done it before, and she was afraid, but there was no turning back now. The three of them linked hands: Jezibaba's was an old, dried claw, like the talon of a vulture, while Stokes' was plump and soft, but cold.
Taking a deep breath Anne said, as loud as she dared: "Mother, we're here for you. Will you come?" No more elaborate spell or ritual was needed. All they had to do was ask the question and see if it was answered.
Often it was not, and for a moment Anne worried that this would be one of those times. But then they heard the trees stir and (muffled beneath the great tons of earth covering them) the voices of dead men call out.
The dirt over the graves seemed to tremble and Anne felt her knees go weak, and then the fog parted and, faster than the shake of a bat's wing, a great black chariot appeared.
Nothing pulled it, but its huge wheels still rolled and came to a stop precisely where they were meant to. The charioteer was a tall, handsome, and pale woman. She wore nothing except a black cloak, longer and finer than anything in the world, and something about the whole of her looked misty around the edges, as if she were not really there at all.
This was Mother Night. She came to Jezibaba, kissed her on the cheek, and called her daughter. She kissed Stokes too (he doffed his hat with so much gusto that he almost shook the old thing to pieces), but when she came to Anne she paused.
Anne flinched under the scrutiny. "I don't know you," said Mother Night. Anne's cheeks burned. "Anne de Chantraine, Mother," she said. "Oh yes. My suffering one." She kissed Anne, and Anne felt lighter. It was true, they had never met, but this was still her mother. She was a Child of the Night as much as any of them. Mother found the tallest and grandest mausoleum to sit down on.
She looked powerful and stern, but also loving. "You've called me and I've come," Mother said. "Tell me why?" Anne realized everyone was waiting for her to answer.
This had been her idea, after all. She cleared her throat. "Mother, thank you for--" No, Mother didn't care about ceremony. Instead Anne launched right into the meat of their plea: "Terrible things are happening," she said. "The Children of the Day rule the world unchallenged now. We, your children, are fewer every year. Once we rode through the night on broomsticks, slept the daylights hours in coffins, dug up the sacred ground to feed on the dead, and took on the bodies of wolves or other beasts to ran howling under your moon.
"But soon there won't be any of us left.
The world isn't safe for us anymore. Tomorrow is Halloween, and we fear it will be the last for most of us." "I know all this already," said Mother. "Why call me?" "We want you to save us," said Anne. "You can't just let us die." "It's not for you to tell me what I can't do." "But you're our mother." Anne's eyes burned, tearless, again.
"Don't you care?" "Of course I care. I love you all," Mother said. "But this is the way of things: Sometimes the days grow long and the nights become short. But the wheel always turns: Day and his children will burn themselves out eventually, and then my kingdom will expand again and my children will multiply.
It's always been so." "Well and fine for you," said Jezibaba. "But the rest of us can't afford to wait that long." Mother Night waved the old witch away and stood up. Anne knew that if she returned to her chariot she'd leave and never respond to their call again. Thinking fast, she blurted out: "What about you, Mother? Don't you miss the old nights too?" Mother paused. "Don't you remember when we ran and sang and did your good works in city and field? What if it could be that way again?
Not in a hundred years or a thousand, but now?" It was a daring thing to say. Mother didn't respond at first, and Anne braced herself, wondering how terrible a curse might fall on her for speaking out of turn. But Jezibaba laid an encouraging hand on Anne's shoulder, so she spoke on. "Tomorrow night, we'll have one more Great Sabbat," said Anne. "All of your children will be there, one last time. Will you come? If you can't save us, will you at least honor us?
Will you do that, if we throw ourselves at your feet?" The night grew colder. Anne hugged her black shawl around her bare arms. When Mother spoke again her voice was changed, seeming deeper and hungrier.
"Maybe," she said. She turned, and the look on her face was just awful. "Maybe…" *** The next night, half a world away, in another, far more ordinary corner of the world, a witch and a ghoul knocked on a door. Chann answered it and the little monsters held up sacks and said in unison: "Trick or treat!" He smiled dutifully and told them how cute they were, parceling out candy for each of them. But as soon as their backs were turned he slammed the door and secured all three locks, then tugged the curtain aside and held his breath until both kids were all the way down the front walk and out of sight.
Only once they were gone did he sight in relief. Chann dreaded Halloween, and the sight of costumed children filled him with revulsion and terror. But he was too soft-hearted to send them away with nothing, so he indulged them for the first few hours of the night and then snapped the lights off promptly at 9:00 PM. It hadn't always been this way. Once, Halloween was the highlight of his year.
But things changed. He looked around his little house.
It was a tiny, plastic, pre-fabricated thing. Most of his neighbors lived in in old Victorians, but Chann disliked anything with a gloomy atmosphere. He tried to fill the place with bright knick-knacks, but he wasn't much of a decorator, and it always looked sparse. He tried to surround the house with a pleasant garden, but it always grew in patchy, and the only things that thrived were wolfsbane and nightshade (which he never even remembered planting). He just wasn't a homemaker.
It wasn't in his blood. The oven timer shrieked. He ran to the kitchen and promptly burned himself on the baking sheet before remembering to use the mitts. The cookies were done, but would they be cool in time? He stood at the counter and blew on all of them until his mouth went dry.
He should have started earlier, but kids at his door were a constant distraction. Now it was almost too late. Any minute now she'd be here. The doorbell rang. More kids? Or was she here already? Chann half-ran to answer it but stopped to take a deep breath, smooth his hair back, fix his shirt, and put on his biggest smile before opening the door.
"Hi!" he said. "You're--" A witch and a ghoul were on his porch. They didn't have sacks, but the ghoul did hold out an old hat. "Trick or treat," they said. Chann slammed the door and locked it three times. Then he put his ear to it and listened. Maybe if I don't let them in they'll just go away, he thought.
Then he imagined what might happen if some kids came up the walk while those two were still on the porch and, panicking, he opened the door again and ushered the pair inside. Stokes rattled when he walked. Anne hesitated for half a second at the threshold, but followed him. She took off her black shawl but didn't hang it. "Hello Chann," she said. "What the hell are you two doing here?" said Chann. "What a rude welcome," said Stokes.
"And you haven't even offered us anything to eat yet. What's that smell?" Moving faster than it would seem possible given his corpulence, Stokes footed it to the kitchen, where Chann caught him with his plump grey fingers on the cookies. "Not that one!" he said, actually slapping Stokes' wrist as his hand strayed toward a particular confection.
"The trash is on the back porch, if you'd prefer it," Chann said. "Delighted!" said Stokes, excusing himself. Chann was relieved only until he remembered this left him alone with Anne. His insides turned to jelly. She sat at the dining room table, eyeing him. He couldn't help but squirm.
She looked…exactly the same, but entirely different. Wasn't that always the way when you see someone again for the first time? He imagined he looked much the same to her.
A little heavier, maybe (he sucked in his gut), but he was mostly the same man. Wasn't he? "This is a nice place," said Anne. She used the word "nice" in tones most people reserve for words like "diseased." "I got a good deal on it," Chann said.
"Did you? I wonder if you know how much you really had to give up." He realized he was still wearing the oven mitts. He deposited them on the counter. The sight of the cookies jogged his memory. "Both of you have to get out," he said. "There are things we have to talk about," said Anne. "ANY night but tonight." "Tonight is the only night," Stokes said from the backyard.
"Someone else is coming and she can't find the two of you here." "Then you'd better hear us out fast, so we'll leave sooner," Anne said. "We're having a party tonight. A Great Sabbat. We want you there. It'll be like the old nights again." "Rage, rage, against the dying of the light," said Stokes. "One last great act of defiance, while we still have the strength." Chann shook his head.
"Not interested." "Mother will be there. We talked to her." Chann's jaw dropped. "You saw her? You spoke--" But then he stopped and crossed his arms over his chest. "Good for you, but I'm still not interested. That part of my life is over. I'm not one of you anymore. I'm normal." "That's a lie," said Anne. "No one ever stops being one of us." "I have." "You only think so," said Anne. "But we're not asking you because we want to.
We're asking because we NEED you. This will be the last Halloween for most of us. We need every single hand on deck.
We can't spare anyone, because there are too few left to spare. We need a good howler, and you were always the best." She stood up now and put a hand on his arm. He expected her fingers to feel cold, like the legs of a spider, but instead they were warm.
"I know you haven't forgotten those autumn nights, back when it was you and me and Elizabeth and the full moon. It can be like that again…" Chann looked at the clock. Seconds were ticking away. "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't. It's been too long. I've lost my touch." "The moon is full tonight." "You could fly me to the moon and I still couldn't manage a howl. It's like riding a bike: After a while you forget." "No, no, you never forget how to ride a bike," said Stokes.
"Okay, then it's not like a bike at all. What do you want out of me? I already said no." He shook Anne's hand off. She looked more distressed than he'd been ready for.
"I didn't want to beg," she said. "But: Please. Just this once. If you ever cared about me?" Chann had never heard her say "please." For a second he felt a twinge of something he thought he'd forgotten, an old, savage feeling, deep down inside…but it passed.
"Those were good times while they lasted," he said, "but those nights are behind us. I've got a new life, and I want to keep it. You should think about doing the same.
The old ways are over. We've got to change if we want to survive." "I see," Anne said. Her voice was cold. She put her shawl back on. "When you say things like that, you might as well kill me yourself, but it's your decision. I guess I'm not surprised. But I had hoped." She paused. "Elizabeth is dead. I don't expect you to care, but you should know. She still talked about you sometimes." Chann felt a jolt of shock.
Deep down, he'd known it would happen sooner or later: there was no place in the modern world for someone like Elizabeth. She had been a true vampire, in the oldest tradition: elegant, refined, brilliant, and heartless.
No, he thought, not entirely heartless: She'd loved him, once, just as much as he'd loved Anne. All three of them had loved each other. It was true what he'd said: Those had been good nights, when they were all young and dangerous and had no idea what kind of pain life could bring. And now she was gone. He groped dumbly for something more to say, but Anne walked right out, and the look she gave him might as well have been a knife in his chest. Stokes followed her and tipped his hat.
"Thanks for the grub," he said, and left. Chann slammed the door. The house seemed particularly dark and empty now. "Fuck," he said, to no one in particular. Again he felt the slightest twinge of something he thought he'd put aside forever, but again it didn't last.
Where did the two of them come off barging in here like that? That life isn't for me anymore. That's what tonight is all about. Tonight! He looked at the clock: It was passed nine. That meant-- The doorbell rang. It was Diana, all smiles, in a yellow dress and pearls.
"Baby!" she said. "Hey!" said Chann. She hugged him and then kissed him and it was a second before they both realized another little spook had followed her to the front door, treat bag in hand. Chann gave the girl a handful of candy, closed the door and (with a quiet sense of triumph) turned off the porch light. "That was the last one," he said. Diana looked out the window. "There are still kids on the street." "But it was the last one for me.
The only treat I'm interested in tonight is you." He kissed her again. She purred, but then looked puzzled. "Are you all right? You look like you've seen a ghost." "I…ran into some old friends earlier. People I'd rather not have seen again.
But it's nothing for you to worry about," he added, very quickly. "I don't want to think about that tonight. Tonight should be all about me and you." "I've been looking forward to this ALL day," she said, putting down her bag and hanging up her coat. "I'm glad we made plans, because just between you and me, I hate Halloween." "Me too," Chann said.
"It's so morbid. I don't understand why we spend a day every year getting kids to think about monsters and death. That can't be good for them, right? And the things adults wear to those parties; so tacky." She paused. "What's that smell?" Chann panicked. Had Anne been wearing some scent? Had the smell of Stokes' grave coat infected the whole house? His mind raced for an explanation.
Then Diana said: "Is that chocolate chip cookies?" "Yes!" He led her to the kitchen. Stokes had gotten into the pan after all and eaten almost half, but the important one was still there.
Working hard not to look at it yet, he picked another one off the edge and broke it in two, handing half to her. She rolled her eyes in ecstasy as she bit into it. He'd never met a woman who loved rich food as much as she did, especially chocolate.
"I'm not much of a baker, but I wanted something to surprise you with." "Aren't you sweet." They retired to the living room and made a picnic of cookies and champagne, curling up in each other's lap to watch Gone with the Wind (her favorite movie, which he'd never seen in its entirety).
While the opening credits rolled and the bubbles from the first sip were still tingling on Chann's tongue she told him about her shift at the hospital, about her progress on the book of poetry she was writing, and about the night yoga classes she'd started. Because of her schedule they saw each other only once a week or so, but they'd been dating for 10 months now and they talked two or three times a day, often, just to hear the sound of the other's voice.
She did most of the talking in the relationship, which was a relief; Chann was never much of a talker to begin with. At work (he chopped for a butcher over in the Dogpatch--the old nights were behind him now, but he still knew his way around meat) he pretended not to know English.
His Spanish-speaking coworkers thought he only spoke Cantonese and his Chinese-speaking coworkers thought he only spoke Spanish.
Conversation was a chore (or a minefield), but not with Diana. With Diana, everything was good. Best of all, everything was normal. The movie went on. Diana regarded Vivien Legh's haughty face and said, "What do you think of Scarlett?" "She's pushy." "I mean the name.
Would it be good for a girl?" She looked back at him. They were curled up very close in each other's arms, electing for the carpet over the couch. "If I had a daughter, I'd like the sound of Scarlett. I…don't know if I can really have children. But I might like to adopt. When the time is right." "I'd like that." He blurted it out, and when he saw the look in her eyes he backpedaled so hard he almost pulled something. "I mean, hypothetically. If it ever came up.
And the time was right. And…Scarlett is a good name." Anxiety sweat was pooling on the small of his back, but in the flickering light of the television he saw her thousand-watt smile. Lacing her fingers in his curly hair she pulled him down for a long, open-mouthed kiss. Their bodies nestled even closer together.
Chann realized all at once that she was not wearing a bra, and he could feel one of her hardened nipples. He thought of the last cookie on the sheet, still in the kitchen. Is now the time, he thought? Or should I wait? Voices still came from the TV: "Sir, you are no gentleman." "And you, Miss, are no lady." Diana nibbled his lower lip playfully. He stammered.
"We're missing the movie." "I've seen it before." "I haven't." "I'll make you watch it again. Shut up and kiss me." They rolled over, Chann laying half on top so that he didn't bury her under his weight. She pulled his hair and dragged his lips down her chin and neck.
She smelled like fresh, sun-dried laundry and daffodils. How did she manage to smell so clean after working in a hospital half the night? Her skin under his lips was cool and clean. Used to be whenever his blood got pumping and he tasted warm flesh on his tongue--even just a little, like when he licked Diana's bare shoulder and nibbled her collarbone--it would rile up him and threaten to send him right back into old habits.
But he that problem had finally disappeared when he met Diana. That was one of the reasons he knew she was the one. When he pictured a life with her as the centerpiece--and when he felt the way his heart raced and ached when she kissed him and teased him and shimmied her strong, lovely body against his in a rippling embrace as they rolled over each other down on the floor--it seemed complete and completely satisfying.
The house wasn't much, he never saw any of his old friends, and one day was always almost exactly like the next, but that was all right as long as she was in the picture. He pulled down the straps of her dress and rubbed his unshaven face against the sensitive skin of her breasts, and she squealed. "Oh, you brute. I should send you right into that bathroom with a razor." "Should I?" "…later." He licked one of her large, red nipples.
He was still dressed but he ground his body against hers anyway. He muted the TV without ever taking his eyes (or his mouth) off Diana. There'd be time to watch the movie later. There'd be time for anything they wanted. They had a whole life ahead of them and-- The sound outside made all the hairs on the back of Chann's neck stand up.
Diana sat up straight and huddled in his arms. The temperature in the room dropped two degrees. "What the hell was that?" she said. "I'm not sure," said Chann, which was a lie. "It was some kind of howling." "Must be coming from the park. Kids or something, having fun." "No, it sounded really close." And it came again, long and cold and plaintive. "It's right outside!" "It can't be," said Chann, but even as he nudged the curtains aside he knew what he'd see.
A half dozen big, shaggy shapes loped on all fours on his lawn, their huge yellow eyes turned toward the window.
They all howled together. Diana was at the window with him. "How weird," she said. "Dogs. Must belong to some neighbor." "Those look pretty big for dogs." "Coyotes, then. They run around the canyon." "I swear, those look like wolves." "There aren't any wolves in the city." "I know.
But that's still what they look like…" The biggest of the pack looked Chann dead in the eye.
Chann's pulse picked up, and a feeling like fire prickled all along his spine. Anne had asked if he remembered what it was like in the old nights: The ugly truth was, he remembered all too well. Nights like this--Halloween and a full moon to boot--were perfect for running on all fours, going in packs, and howling at windows. He remembered the coppery taste of meat right off the bone on nights like this, too.
He held onto the windowsill too hard. If he looked down, he was sure he'd see his hand had become a paw. And once it had started, there would be nothing to stop it… But Diana slipped her hand into his and the cool, soft sensation banished the bad old feeling immediately. The tension that had been collecting evaporated. He remembered where he was, and who he was.
Pointedly, he shut the curtains again. He waited to see if there were any more mournful howls, but the night had gone quiet. He turned back to Diana, who was looking at him with a combination of curiosity and wonder. "What do you suppose that was all about?" she said. "No idea. But it's nothing important. There's nothing important tonight but me and you." "For a guy who doesn't like to talk, you sure do have a way with words." She reclined on the couch and he got down between her legs, pulling her skirt up and finding she was wearing nothing down there either.
He pressed his mouth against her but she hissed and pushed him back. "Don't be in such a hurry. Go slow, like this." He chastised himself and followed her instructions, kissing first, then licking, and then, as the sharp taste of wetness became more and more prominent, he brought his mouth up to her again. She arched her back and grabbed the arm of the couch, pushing her hips up and purring. "That's right. That's very good…" He put the tip of his tongue in, licking the cream from the inside of her.
He went to put a finger in but stopped himself, remembering that his nails were too long and too ragged. Instead he rubbed her clit, just barely peeking out from her swollen lips. She squirmed. He let the taste of her hit the back of his mouth and went down for more. I can be happy with just this, he thought. I don't need to run and howl as long as she's here for me.
Part of him still held back…but another, more immediate part of him was aching like a wound and eager for the relief Diana's body offered. He continued licking until the quivering of her gratification sent tremors all through him. When he came up for air she kissed him again, her lips smearing with the taste of herself and her tongue tangling with his.
She pulled him up on top of her. Their bodies jostled for position before settling into perfect comfort, her curves accommodating him. Her hardened nipples poked through the fabric of her dress and he tugged it down on one side, exposing her for a second until his mouth closed on that too.
Her hands crept under his shirt, tracing the outline of the muscle flexing underneath. In the middle of another kiss he thought, what about now? Is now the time? He didn't want to stop, but maybe it would be better if they both could-- He froze again. He couldn't help it: Turning his head ever so slightly, he caught sight of a ghastly, leering face in the rear window, with great popping eyes and a sneer that turned his blood turned to ice.
He nearly bit his tongue in half. Diana followed his gaze, but by then the face had disappeared. Shivering, Chann stood. Diana grabbed his arm. "What is it?" "I heard something in the yard. I want to make sure it's not some kids breaking in." "I'm sure it's not." "I'll just be a minute.
Stay warm for me." He slipped out the backdoor, with an odd feeling like he was a thief leaving his own house. Jezibaba had set her cauldron right in the middle of the yard (which he was certain would prove terrible for the grass). The porch light gleamed off her iron teeth. Swallowing the lump in his throat, he asked what she wanted.
Or at least, he tried to: The words wouldn't actually come. Had she hexed him, or was he just that scared? Whatever the case, she was the one who broke the silence.
"Since I see I'm not interrupting anything, let's you and me have a nice chat," she said. Chann's cheeks burned. "I told Anne no already." "I'll bet you did, bless her little black heart. What did she do, ask you nicely? With sugar on top? Remind you of the good times? Probably flashed a little leg at you too." He blushed harder. "So the nice way doesn't work on you. Well, I don't do things the nice way. So let me ask: Are you willing to come back to the fold for one night and remember who you really are?
Are you willing to change your shape, howl at the moon, and make the Day Children afraid again on Halloween? "And before you answer," she continued, cutting him off, "think about this: If you DO say no, what do you suppose I'll do to punish you?
That's a fine morsel you've got in your house right now. I'd hate to see anything happen to her…" Now Chann felt himself go white. If it had been anyone else--ANYONE else--saying a thing like that, he'd have ripped her throat out on the spot.
But witchcraft got blacker and more dangerous the older the witch, and Jezibaba was the oldest of all. He'd be as helpless as a child trying to fight her, and she knew it. He balled his fists up and bit his lip, but he dared do no more than that. She nodded, as if in approval. "So that's settled: You'll send your little tart home, and then you'll get ready to come out and howl at the party." She looked at him like he was a worm. "You're a weakling and a spoiled brat, but you're still one of us.
They're all coming, all the ones who are left from every corner of the world, and you're not special enough to think you can get out of it. So say your goodbyes and make yourself respectable." Maybe I'll take a piss in her cauldron, Chann thought.
She'd probably curse my dick right off, but it would be worth it. As if reading his mind, Jezibaba sneered again. "I'll never understand what Anne sees in you. She could do better." "But has she?" She answered with a rude gesture.
"It's almost the witching hour. I don't want to have to come here again.
Get ready to go to work." With that she was gone. Chann went back inside, feeling numb. His mind raced: What was he going to say? How could he get Diana to leave without seeming like-- "I should go." Chann blinked. She'd fixed her clothes again and retrieved her shoes and purse, standing near the entryway with an expectant look. "Why?" he blurted out. "I remembered I have an early shift tomorrow.
A very early shift. I shouldn't even have come, but I missed you so much…" For a second she seemed to vacillate, but came back with a firm, "I need to go." She knows, Chann thought. Not everything, of course. Not even half of everything, unless she's insane. But she saw the look on my face and heard the fear in my voice when I looked out the window, and she knows I lied to her about it.
I'll never be able to explain that lie, and she'll never forget it. He thought this even as they somewhat awkwardly hugged good night. Don't go, he wanted to say. When she left, he hoped she'd look back at him before she reached the end of the walkway, but she didn't. The night swallowed her up. He didn't bother to lock the door. He felt gutshot. Walking to the kitchen, he found the last cookie still on the tray and crushed it in his hand.
Picking through the crumbs, he found the ring. He'd gone with silver over the traditional gold, because it complemented the diamond better. He spun the ring in his palm once and watched it fall over and become a weight in this hand. "Bastards," he said out loud. He cleaned up, locked everything again, then lay down on the living room floor, staring at the ceiling and fuming.
He wasn't going to the sabbat; he wouldn't give them the satisfaction. Let Jezibaba do whatever she wanted to him. He honestly didn't think it could get much worse than what he was feeling now. Shadows crept through the slats in the blinds and stretched across the ceiling like prying fingers, but he didn't stir. To hell with all of them, he thought. He'd assumed he was too angry for sleep, but before long he felt it tugging at him and rolled over, drifting off into a dark, dreamless place… And awakened moments later to a grating scream beneath his window.
Diana? Chann jumped up, unlocked the door, rushed out and found: Pandemonium. Hundreds of figures danced around dozens of fires burning in the street, orange and blue flames leaping and laughing and throwing shadows. Witches of every shape and size mingled and cavorted, drinking blood and eating baby's fat and giving amorous looks to the incubi and succubi they'd dredged up for the night's merriment.
Those ghosts able to leave their haunts and those corpses strong enough to leave their graves howled and rattled chains, while loping wolves dragged their prey in and added it to the buffets.
One of the biggest of them looked at Chann and, quite distinctly, winked at him.
A coterie of ghouls had arrived, and a few genuine Welsh goblins joined them, the two crews competing in rounds of bawdy drinking songs. A couple gargoyles had managed to unperch themselves and fly down from the cathedral on the hill, and from their hidden lairs under the ground had come ogres, fiends, imps, bogies, and trolls, while all manner of scaly bunyips and grindylows had come out of the sea to join them.
Someone had even liberated an ancient Egyptian mummy from a museum; he was too tightly bound to really join in any of the festivities, but he at least expressed his (muffled) thanks to anyone within earshot.
Garlands of nightshade, monkshood, and hemlock strewed the street, and everywhere was the sound of music and songs, in voices that croaked and groaned and cackled and howled. Chann reeled at the sights and smells, the grotesque carnival putting him off balance so that he had to hug the door. Stokes separated from his brothers and sisters to come slap Chann on the back.
The old ghoul was drunk. "'While ye may, go marry; For having lost but once your prime, you may forever tarry,'" he said. "Come join the fun, old sport." "You brought everyone here?" "You were the only one who didn't show. We decided we'd bring the mountain to Mohammed, as it were. Quite a crowd, yes?
I can't remember the last time I've had such fun." Feeling stronger now, Chann stood up straight. "Where's Anne?" "At the blackthorn trees, preparing the offerings. But come have a round with us before you go find her." He sloshed a gurgling concoction in a flask. "No? Well, if you change your mind." He recited: "'When Mother comes commanding, death away will fly; Ever understanding, drinking souls will never die!'" Anne was indeed under the blackthorn trees, kneeling and laying offerings at a low stone altar.
Chann stepped over the prone body of a drunken bloodybones and elbowed through a pack of redcaps playing knife games. She pretended not to notice his approach, but he grabbed her by the hair and hauled her to her feet, inciting a squawk of protest. "How dare you!" she said.
"You think this is funny, don't you?" Anne shook her hair out. "This is as good a place for everyone to meet as any. Don't like it? Then go back into your dollhouse and pretend it's not happening. That's what you were going to do anyway, weren't you?" Chann's blood boiled.
"Everyone can see you out here." "We want to be seen." She raised her chin. "You'll get yourselves killed." "Maybe we want that too. Who knows what we all want? How about you, Chann? What do you want?" "To be left alone, and to be normal." "Then what are you doing out here?
Does any of this look normal to you?" She swept a hand over the street, glowing with hellfire. "Why not admit that you miss it? Admit that you miss me." She slid up to him and put a hand on his chest. She smelled like jasmine and calamus. He simmered some more. "Of course I miss you. But…" "But what? You're afraid? Embarrassed? Too many regrets? What's your excuse?" "Don't talk to me like that." "What are you going to do about it?" She slapped him across the face.
He yelped, and his whole body twisted with the force of it. She wound up for another one but he caught it and pushed her back.
She jostled the altar, upending candles into rivers of dripping wax. "That's the spirit," she said. "Do it again. Harder." Chann's hands shook. He saw that his fingers had grown longer, and the claws were coming out. Licking his teeth, he found them growing to points. The muscles of his face and back stretched.
I can't hold it, he thought. Now that he was out under the moon, away from the house, surrounded by so many sights and smells that reminded him of the old nights, it was too much to keep in check. And there was Anne, her naked body sprawled across the altar… She grabbed his wrists and put his hands on her breasts.
"Squeeze hard," she said. "Like you used to." His erection grew. He dragged his claws down the front of Anne's body, breaking the skin in four places. Shallow streams of blood painted her, mingling with the melted wax on the altar stone. She moaned and stuck one of his fingers into her mouth, licking the claw. "You could skin me alive, couldn't you? You can do whatever you want to me and I won't care, as long as it's the real you." It was hard to talk, so Chann answered by wrapping his paws around her throat and squeezing until her breath stopped.
She gasped without any noise and wriggled underneath him as he climbed up onto the altar and spread her legs. Her eyes rolled back and he heard her heart begin to slow before he released his grasp and let her suck breath back into her lungs.
Then she bit him on the chest and kissed him, doing both so fast he couldn't retaliate. "I hate you, you bastard. Do you hate me? Is that why you left me alone?" She pulled him closer. "If you hate me, then come hurt me." His cock was so hard it hurt. He stuck it into her and she screamed, thrashing. The candles burned higher and the partiers screamed louder. The moonlight was in Chann's blood now, making him wild and drunk. He held Anne down and pumped her harder and harder.
She was slippery with sweat, and the salty scent of it tingled in his nostrils. Blood, sweat, flesh, moonlight, the smell of the trees and the night; it was just like old times. She bit his arm until the flesh tore, so he slapped her. She moaned and asked him to do it again. She finally wriggled out from underneath him only to turn around so that he could take her from behind, across the altar.
He could see all the scars on her back, the keepsakes of that time hundreds of years ago when the men of the church had burned her on a pyre: she'd stood for three days and three nights tied to the stake as the witch hunters added more and more fuel to the blaze. Eventually they ran out, and she walked away. He was changing even more now; he couldn't help it. He squeezed Anne's tits until she screamed and swore, and slid his cock between her ass, leaning into her as hard as she could and letting the pressure stimulate his shaft.
Her fingers dug furrows in the candle wax. Chann was getting ready to release the pressure pent-up inside of him all over her when something pale and luminous fluttered by his peripheral vision. He looked up for a half a second and saw that a beautiful, stern, pleased-looking woman had snuck on them.
He'd never seen her before, but he recognized her instantly: "Mother!" He stopped. Anne stopped. The ghouls stopped singing and the ghosts stopped wailing, and every witch bowed her head in respect as Mother Night passed. She said nothing, although everyone she saw believed she was just about to speak, perhaps even to say their name… And then, as quickly and mysteriously as she'd come, she was gone.
Only the slightest stirring of autumn leaves marked her departure. But they all felt different now that they'd seen her, like a veil they hadn't realized they were wearing had been pulled away from their eyes at last.
The night looked brittle and beautiful. Chann exhaled. Everyone else did too. In fits, the party picked back up again, but there was a solemn note to it now, like a great wake for an old friend who everyone would miss.
"I feel…good," Anne said. "I feel like I haven't felt in ages." "I feel young again," Chann said. "I bet they all do." Anne slipped a hand into his paw. "We'll all be just a little bit stronger after tonight.
Not much…but maybe enough that we'll all make it to next Halloween. Just maybe, this doesn't have to be the last one…" Chann thought Anne looked a little like Mother herself: Full of love and sorrow. He wanted to take her in his arms (gently) and say very foolish things then, and the only thing that stopped him was another voice, half-recognized, and an even more familiar scent, from somewhere nearby.
Could it be? Anne was distracted watching the fires, so he slipped away from her and followed the new sounds and smells. Underneath another tree he discovered a naked woman who was herself halfway transformed into a wolf, twined in the arms of an incubus boytoy.
Even like this, he still recognized her. Chann cleared his throat. Diana looked up, then started, looked again, and stood up so fast she actually dropped her gigolo on the ground. "Chann! Um. Hello. …this isn't what it looks like." He looked at the demon on the ground, then at Diana.
Her mouth had fresh blood on it. "All right, so it's exactly what it looks like," she said. "But he means nothing to me! Honestly." "Hey?" said the incubus. "Oh hush up," she said. She paused and looked Chann up and down. "You look…different." "You too." "I guess I must. …I was going to tell you about this eventually, honest. It's just…I thought this part of my life was behind me. But I ran into some old friends tonight, and one thing led to another, and then…well, it is Halloween, after all." Chann looked at Diana, then back at Anne, then at all the others, and finally at the moon, huge and yellow in the sky.
He couldn't help but laugh. "It is at that," he said. And, closing his eyes and throwing back his head, he howled.