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Scary stories for scary times

A selection of Pique’s favourite spooky stories to help get you through the rest of 2020
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Scary stories for scary times

In a year when some of our worst existential fears moved from the realm of imagination to reality, horror as a genre can feel trivial, pointless even. But there is a long history of social upheaval sparking distinct trends in horror.

In the ‘50s, cinema screens were awash with films about genetically mutated monsters invading our cities, a reflection of Cold War-era paranoia of the so-called Red Scare.

By the late ‘60s, America’s Civil Rights movement and rising anti-Vietnam sentiment found expression in George Romero’s landmark zombie flick, Night of the Living Dead, which has since spawned a flurry of imitators.  

Jordan Peele’s 2017 Oscar-nominated film, Get Out, took Romero’s racial commentary a step further, brilliantly subverting that old white saviour trope to expose the hubris and complacency of the liberal, white family at the heart of this disturbing story.

With COVID-19 stoking anxieties around isolation and the devastating impacts of a global virus, cultural experts predict a new wave of oncoming contagion films and literature.

“Because that plays into the fear of science turning against us and making us something bad,” Kinitra Brooks, literary studies professor at Michigan State University, recently told Time Magazine. “Zombie horror fits in with contagion because there’s this idea that you’ll become one of a horde of zombies. You’ll lose the essence of who you are and then you’ll infect others.”

So, while we await the next great batch of contagion stories, Pique has decided to reprint some of our favourite Halloween stories from over the years. Part of that is due to budget constraints COVID has placed on our freelance budget (support local journalism!), but in all honesty, we just don’t have the heart quite yet to delve into our deepest fears while they seem to be playing out at an alarming rate in the real world.

Thanks goes to the writers who graciously gave us permission to republish these spooky tales, and to all the scribes who have contributed to Pique’s Halloween feature over the years.

Here’s wishing you and yours a safe and physically distanced Halloween. In spite of our worst fears, it’s bound to get better from here.

-Brandon Barrett

 

 

Haunted housing crisis

By Braden Dupuis   

“Oi!”

Trenton’s piercing shout echoed into the small, overcrowded room, rousing four bodies from various states of unconsciousness.

“You boys ready to party or what?”

Noah rolled over on his top bunk, squinting first at his alarm clock—3 a.m. on a Tuesday. Beautiful—and then into Trenton’s bloodshot eyes.

“You know some of us have to work in the morning, right?” he sputtered.

Trenton was unfazed—he cursed in that charming way of his and laughed, taking a fat swallow from his ever-present mickey of Fireball.

“You don’t wanna make me drink with the flies, do you?”

Even completely sober, Noah felt sick. He had been living in Whistler for four years before he was evicted two months back. The owner of his long-time rental suite decided to rent the house on Airbnb, and that was it—Noah and four others were on the street.

Four years of working hard, contributing to the community, and now he might be forced to leave due to an embarrassingly tight housing market.

But in a stroke of luck—if you could even call it that—Noah eventually landed one half of a bunk bed in a room shared by five dudes.

All it cost him was $700 a month, his dignity, privacy and sanity.

His four previous roommates weren’t so lucky, leaving town one by one until Noah was the only one left.

“Can’t you take a night off?” Noah asked Trenton, already fearing the answer that awaited him.

“I would if your mom wasn’t such a piece of piss!” Trenton replied, before clumsily scaling the bunk bed to engage Noah directly.

“Every night,” Noah thought to himself, as the two wrestled stupidly on the top bunk.

The commotion was cut off by a sound from the closet.

Not terribly loud, but enough to make all five roommates pause—almost like a heavy sigh piercing the air of a deep winter’s night.

“What in the bloody hell was that?” Noah asked, pushing Trenton to the floor with a thud.

“Too easy,” Trenton answered, before ambling to his feet and stumbling to the closet doors to wrest them open.

But inside there was nothing—just some yet-to-be-recycled empties and a lonely calendar pinned to the wall.

“See?” Trenton laughed. “What are you pussies so afraid of?”

Noah could only close his eyes, wondering what he’d done to deserve all of this.

Haunting comfortably

Alexander looked at the calendar and gave a heavy sigh.

Halloween was fast approaching—a time of year he used to cherish.

But this year was different. He just couldn’t get up for it.

He looked around his tiny closet in despair. “Is this all I’m worth?” he asked himself, listening to the drunken louts arguing on the other side of his door.

It had been five decades since Alexander died. An ill-fated run on a makeshift Saskatchewan ski hill ended his earthly life (a fact he took much ribbing for from the “true” Whistler locals), and some decades later, he made the move out west.

Lots of good places to haunt back then, he recalled—room enough for ghosts of all translucent forms: families, singles, hell, even the transients were haunting comfortably back then.

But something changed. The market got tight. People got greedy. Nobody wanted to commit to a long-term ghost anymore. It just didn’t make sense.

The arrival of Scarebnb didn’t help. A good haunting was now just a few clicks away, and much more economical than having a traditional, live-in ghost.

Why buy the dead cow when you get its silky ghost milk for free?

Everyone was feeling the pinch: Bloody William and Ol’ Naked Frank were currently haunting someone’s truck; Headless Bob was terrorizing the local hostel.

Last Alexander had heard, Morbid Mandy was building a squat outside of municipal boundaries so she could haunt in peace.

Alexander was depressed. Deep in his hollow heart he knew he should be haunting the little shits outside his closet—flickering the lights, making the walls bleed, giving them inexplicable diarrhea—but he just couldn’t find the energy these days.

He wanted to haunt a nice family with a dog, or maybe a cozy, affordable one-bedroom suite with a nice young couple.

But those days were gone.

Alexander knew (from conversations overheard through his ghostly privileges) that the still-alive owner of his current home would be cashing out in a matter of days, taking advantage of the red-hot real estate market and, in turn, putting an entire house full of tenants out on the street.

Alex looked at the calendar again, noting the dwindling boxes leading up to Halloween.

For the first time in his ghostly life, Alexander would not have a home to haunt on the most sacred of ghostly days.

Homeless and haunted

Alexander had been haunting Whistler homes for more than 20 years.

His was the typical Whistler ghost story—come for a season, stay for several lifetimes.

But now, for the first time in two decades, Alexander was forced to consider leaving Whistler altogether—maybe head to the Interior, where he’d heard good things about haunting availability.

“But do I really want to haunt Fernie?” Alexander asked himself. “Who is there to scare in Nelson?”

Alexander was officially a homeless ghost.

No streetlights to light the way, the neighbourhood streets were dark as ever.

But the darkness was most notable for all the empty homes, Alexander realized.

“How many homeless ghosts could haunt that mansion?” He thought to himself as he floated by a particularly extravagant home. He pictured Headless Bob rising slowly out of the mist of the in-ground pool, head tucked neatly under his arm, and laughed to himself at the imagined screams of pampered weekend warriors.

He pictured Bloody William doing his knife-tossing routine, which always gave the effect that the knives were floating rather than being juggled, and Ol’ Naked Frank doing his trademark helicopter from hell.

He smiled sadly to himself.

“It’s all gone now,” he thought. “It’s over. The Christians have won.”

The housing talk had dominated discussion on Ghostbook for weeks. Every ghost and their dead dog was looking for a place to haunt to no avail.

It made Alexander sick to his transparent stomach, or at least it would have, if he still kept and maintained human organs.

The Council of Whistler Ghosts promised action; said they had it all under control.

“Housing ghosts is a key priority,” they promised. “Haunting is a deceased human’s right.”

Alexander wanted to believe them, to trust that the problem would be fixed before it was too late.

The council promised solutions within a few months, but fat lot of ghostly good that did Alexander. By the time the council studied the problem, made its recommendations and eventually solved the damn thing, Alexander’s ghost bones would be frozen stiff and he’d be buried under 15 feet of snow.

Well, not really. Ghosts can’t freeze, or be buried. But you get the point.

All at once, Alexander decided he had had enough.

After two decades investing his hate and fear into Whistler, after thousands of nights spent scaring the living shit out of the people who needed it the most, he would walk away.

“If this town doesn’t want me, then to heaven with it,” he spat.

“Let them sort out their own method of soiling everyone’s pants.”

And with that, he was gone — just another used-up Whistler ghost, off to haunt another town.

 

This story was originally published in Pique’s 2016 Halloween issue. Braden Dupuis is Pique’s senior reporter. He and his ghosts have been happily housed in Whistler since 2014.  

 

 

The Gift

By Brandon Barrett

Pierre wasn’t expecting any visitors that night.

Opening hours had come and gone, and the last tour group of excitable schoolchildren had left before lunchtime.

But Pierre’s Victorian-era home—which, it should be said, has doubled as The Museum of Supernatural Beings and Mythical Creatures since his father died a few years back—was no stranger to the odd late-night wanderer. It was a place best enjoyed after dusk, to say the least, and it tended to attract a certain kind of patron that preferred the cloak of dark.

But tonight’s visitor was different.

There was no knock on the door to announce his arrival. Pierre couldn’t even recall hearing the gentle plodding of footsteps that usually accompanied the mailman or Chinese delivery guy on their walk up the stone steps leading to his front door.

The man, quite simply, was just there, as if he had manifested out of thin air. Or, perhaps, Pierre thought, he had always been there, burrowed in the deep recesses of his psyche, lurking in the corner of one eye until deciding it was time to be acknowledged.

Pierre shook off this paranoid thought as a consequence of reading a few too many Stephen King novels under flashlight as a sulky teen.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we’re closed for the evening,” Pierre said, surprised that his words had only managed to rise barely above a whisper.

“I’m aware of your operating hours,” the man said, not looking at Pierre directly, instead peering over the vast collection of macabre artifacts and dust-speckled leather books that cluttered the gallery.

“Is...is there something I can help you with?” Pierre asked nervously, noticing the rectangular protuberance from under the man’s fraying pea coat for the first time.

“I have something for you,” the man said, slowly turning to meet Pierre’s gaze, his ashen eyes bracketed by deep bags.

Pierre flinched ever so slightly as the man reached into his coat, producing a small oil painting. He recognized the portrait’s subject instantly: The Vampire Butcher of Bowman, a vicious serial killer who had terrorized the town decades before but today was forgotten by most of the locals, save for a few historians and true-crime junkies. When he was spoken about, it was always in hushed tones, behind closed doors, as if just uttering the murderer’s name would conjure his return.

Pierre stared down at the painting, unsure of what he was supposed to make of it. The technique was remarkable, that much was for sure. The composition was precise, every brush stroke exactly where it was supposed to be. The deft play between light and dark reminded him of the chiaroscuros of the Dutch masters.

But there was no signature to be found on the canvas, so Pierre asked the stranger if he had painted it himself.

“You don’t know who I am, do you?” the man asked, without a trace of emotion in his voice.

“Well, you see,” Pierre backpedalled, “there are a lot of talented artists in this town, and I’m afraid my line of work doesn’t afford me the time to learn all of their names.”

The man turned away from the curator and began to thumb through an early edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that Pierre was convinced he had locked under a glass case that was now laid open wide.

“Let me ask you this,” the man started, “would you consider the vampire’s bite an act of violence?”

Pierre had spoken on this very subject countless times before. Despite his museum housing relics associated with a wide range of mythical beasts—werewolves, elves, dragons and the like—it was the vampire that had always fascinated him the most.

“Vampires aren’t scary, people are,” he liked to say to packed lecture halls and coffee shops.

Pierre took his job as one of the country’s pre-eminent vampire folklorists seriously—especially in recent years, when money-grubbing Hollywood producers and pale-skinned teenage heartthrobs had diluted the creature’s image for profit.

“The bite is not a hurtful act,” Pierre explained, almost absent-mindedly, as he continued to stare, transfixed, at the hypnotic painting.

“A vampire will kill at will if it so chooses. But the bite is more discriminate. It’s an invitation, the chance to join the most exclusive of tribes, to turn outsider into insider. At its core, it’s an act of love. A gift.”

Pierre glanced up from the canvas, awaiting a nod of approval that would never come. He was alone once more, at least in the physical sense. His surprise guest was gone, departing as swiftly and mysteriously as he had arrived, although a distinct feeling of unease lingered over Pierre.

Who was that?

He tried not to think too much about the odd encounter as he went to bed, but strange and violent dreams racked his sleep. He awoke in the morning, feeling worn and ragged, knocking back a few espressos before making the short walk to the library.

Pierre was on a mission. He knew exactly what he was looking for, an old encyclopedia that religiously documented the most brutal and heinous crimes of the early 20th century.

Pierre rushed to a musty room in the back of the building that housed a small but not insignificant selection of rare and antique books. He purposefully scanned the shelves lined with desiccated tomes until he found what he was after: A Compendium of Horrors: True Tales of Terrible Crimes.

Hurriedly flipping through the book, Pierre stopped on a yellowing, dog-eared page.

“Gustav ‘Gus’ Gremner (30 October 1890 – 14 September 1938) was an Austrian-born serial killer, known as “The Vampire Butcher of Bowman,” who committed ritualistic acts of murder, mutilation and disembowelment on a minimum of 24 young men and women between 1908 and 1937.

Gremner became known as The Vampire Butcher of Bowman due to the extensive mutilation and dismemberment he inflicted upon his victims’ bodies, and because of his preferred murder method of biting and tearing into his victims’ throats.

Described by the judge in his trial as ‘a truly despicable being’ and ‘an affront to humanity,’ Gremner was found guilty of 20 of the 24 murders for which he was tried, and sentenced to death by hanging in May 1938. He was subsequently executed in September 1938.

Moments before his execution, Gremner was asked for any final words. He looked down at the crowd of bloodthirsty onlookers who had gathered below, his vacant eyes suddenly ignited with righteous indignation, and bellowed out only four short words: ‘Death is a gift.’”

Pierre gasped audibly as the book fell from his hands and crashed violently onto the floor, a plume of dust enveloping the room. The same overwhelming sense of dread that had gripped him the night prior had suddenly returned, except more intensely than before. He looked out the window to discover the sun had already set. It felt like he had been reading for mere minutes, but Pierre must have been so wrapped up he had completely lost track of time.

He sprinted out of the empty library and spilled onto the street, an undeniable anxiety rising within him. Every lamppost, every house, every person he passed along the way looked identical to the one before it, an endless treadmill of déjà vu.

Pierre worried he might never find his way home, but as soon as the thought struck, he noticed the dim lights of his living room.

Had he left those on? Pierre wondered, palms sweaty, temples booming.

Out of breath, his damp shirt clinging to his back, he approached the house tentatively, fearing what was inside. Pierre stopped for a split second at the door, wondering if he should knock, overtaken by a strange sense that the house he had grown up in was no longer his.

The heavy, oak door creaked open before he had the chance to knock.

“I hope you don’t mind I let myself in,” the man must have said, although Pierre was certain he never saw his lips move.

Crookedly hanging on the wall was a new painting, this one much less polished than the first.

The brush stokes were messy, muddled, visceral. The work of a soul unhinged. Vivid reds and stark blues were slashed on the canvas, the oil still dripping and drying in place.

Pierre stood, mouth agape, in the kind of frozen paralysis one can only experience in moments of pure terror. The painting depicted a man with his throat ripped out, his entrails splayed on the floor.

He recognized the portrait’s subject instantly.

“I have something for you,” the man said, a knowing grin spread across his face.

 

This story was originally published in Pique’s 2015 Halloween issue and was inspired by a visit to the Museum of Vampires and Legendary Creatures in Paris, France. Along with being a staff writer and features editor for Pique, Brandon Barrett is a playwright, performer and theatre producer.

 

 

RIP

By Cathryn Atkinson

“Rest in Peace.”

Each time Celeste drove the highway, she would come to the bend in the road that compelled her to lift her feet off the floor of the car and say those words.

It had become a ritual. If her foot stayed on the gas pedal or brake for safety’s sake, it would feel as though it was burning up.

Like the highway, the long scorch pattern also curved, but looked more like the visual interpretation of a rising scream. The pockmarked concrete remained the same 22 months after the accident and fire that killed her Simon. He was driving his ancient Audi northbound to Celeste’s place when he texted to say he had something important to tell her that was better shared in person than over the phone.

A simple 30-minute drive through the wilderness, from town to town.

The shape and spread of the scorching told the story of a rainy night, high speed, a slide into oblivion, and an inferno that closed lanes in both directions for seven hours. No one else was involved. A slow ambulance was needed, not a helicopter.

And for two years, Celeste passed this grim reminder twice a day as she travelled to and from work, dreaming each night of the mystery of Simon’s unsaid words. The dreams always began with a kind of hopeful joy, veering into an unfulfilled longing, crashing into the sickening permanent estrangement that only death can bring.

In them, Celeste stood on the threshold of a field. Across from her at some distance was a man. His face and body were turned away. Simon? Not Simon? Yes, Simon. She knew his walk. Beyond him, parked and waiting, was the Audi.

She would always call out, “Don’t get into the car!” But Simon always would. He would drive off with a screech, and she would know what was next. Her nightmares never showed her the fire, and yet they were without mercy.

Each time she awoke sweating and sobbing. She felt as though she had been burned through by a force she could never remember, by words she said but he didn’t. A feeling of pure failure.

In life, the relationship had already become toxic. There was a girlfriend, Lynne. Simon said it was over. It was ending soon. He was confused. It was over. He accused Celeste of acting and thinking in ways she hadn’t—pure projection. She was knocked off balance and was going to end the drama. She was already pulling away from him, convinced he was in turns a manipulative, flakey, dishonest, predatory, indecisive asshole. The main thing was asshole. The jury was not out on that anymore.

Then she agreed to the last meeting.

The next time she was in his presence was at the funeral home. Practically collapsing, Lynne was led out before she could speak to anyone there and thank them for coming, or not. A crumpled wreck.

Celeste had no any indication of how much Lynne knew. What was real, what wasn’t. Their eyes never met. Somehow Lynne’s missing rage made the sorrow worse to bear. Celeste couldn’t tell what the truth had been. She would never know and she couldn’t stand it.

After that the dreams began. Celeste went into counselling; she took on all the trappings of mindfulness and self-care. She’d run for an hour when it felt relentless.

Nothing helped until she decided there was a ghost, and that he needed to be sent on, to whatever was next, with compassion. So Celeste started saying, “Rest in Peace” to Simon every time she drove over the crash site. She, a non-believer, even prayed for him. She had no faith in closure. Instead, she told Simon what she thought—from the rage to the love.

It wasn’t formal. There were no churches or Ouija boards guiding her. But whether from pure intuition or purer adrenaline, the dream didn’t shift.

* * *

The signs went up before the roadwork started. And after the signs went up, the cones went out. Correct and safety-conscious.

The highway was to be fixed after two winters of potholes, and this included the accident site. The unknowing trucks, the ones that scraped and prepared the highway, the one that laid out the asphalt and sealed it to the substrate, and the final one that rolled it flat—they were all ready to dig out the section. They’d remove and replace the scorch marks forever.

When she saw the construction prep, Celeste pulled over in a panic. She told the foreman she wasn’t ready for the marks to disappear. He told her to piss off. She attacked him and the police were called. She fled into the forest before they got there. When the search-and-rescue team found her, she was pretty far gone, but lucid enough to check herself into a facility.

* * *

After much pleading, Celeste made an agreement with her psychologist—he would tell her about the highway project’s progress on a daily basis and then help her work through her feelings. They agreed confrontation was the best cure, the only way out was through. After a week, he finally told her the scorch marks had been covered and she needed sedation.

But the nightmares ended. No more Simon on a field out of reach. No more waking up to the feeling that his bones and skin had crackled to bits in an inferno. No disembodied voices. No tears pooling in her ears. He was resting in peace.

Eventually, Celeste was free again and work took her back. On the first day, she got into the car and made the journey, noting the bend in the road and seeing nothing more. No need to say “Rest in Peace.” Celeste reacted like any other driver, meeting the curve with a slight turn of the steering wheel. Everyone at work greeted her like a long-lost friend.

She got through the day—a barrage of computer work that required no visible reaction. It was the same for everyone there. Two colleagues in the lunchroom remarked on how unremarkable she seemed. They’d been hoping for some action, something to share in the pub. Celeste worked late and it was dark when she pulled into the Chevron before exiting to the highway.

It was a quiet, off-season Monday. There was no traffic. The dark trip home, with the black tarmac passing under the car, was an eternal night.

Celeste pulled onto the shoulder just after the bend and put on the flashers. The LED lights blinked like a question. She had to walk back to the spot; this was difficult because the gas can was full and heavy.

Celeste carefully poured gas across the road. She knew she couldn’t repeat the pattern but believed it wouldn’t matter. She knew Simon wouldn’t mind and would come back to her in her dreams all the same. Anything was better than nothing.

She craved seeking the unknowable voice because of the hope it gave her, even with his back to her across a field. It suggested there were options and a direction for her love to go up that dark road, reaching its destination and maybe never crashing. She wanted to be able to tell him to not get in the Audi every single night.

The match hit the road and the flames jumped up. The oily asphalt met the gasoline. Celeste was thrilled until she realized that the marks would not be dark enough, the fire was not intense enough. The asphalt was too fresh and would swallow the blackness in its own. All was truly lost.

“Peace in rest,” Celeste said, and poured more gas on the fire, laughing as the flames reached for the sky and then for her.

 

A version of this story appeared in Pique’s 2018 Halloween issue. Pique’s former arts editor, Cathryn Atkinson gave up the glamour of journalism to take on the glamour of screenwriting. She spends a lot of time in front of computers.

 

 

The Maternal Instinct of Witches

By Katherine Fawcett

Witches these days have large chunks of free time.

That’s because they don’t have regular jobs and they don’t have any interest in physical fitness or tidiness. They don’t have hobbies, they don’t watch television, and they don’t enjoy music. And due to changing market conditions and consumer habits, services for incantations, spell-casting and fright-night appearances are rarely called upon any more.

Yes, witches cook, but they never clean up after themselves. They just use the same dirty pots for the next day’s meal. There’s no garbage or compost to worry about either. If the scraps, peels, rotten ends, bones and other sharp bits aren’t needed, they are given to the cat, whose name is usually Thunder. Poisonous parts are put in jars for safekeeping.

Now and then, a witch becomes bored with this leisurely lifestyle. Staring out the window at the neighbours’ comings and goings, reading spell books and cracking one’s knuckles gets a little stale after a while.

One way for a witch to solve this problem is to have a child.

Everyone knows that having a child can be very, very good for getting a lady out of a rut; for breaking up the routine when life begins to feel same-old, same-old.

Besides, having a child is no big deal for a witch.

When she is ready, she simply wraps a piece of thin white satin around the base of one of her skin tags. (Oh, there are plenty of dangling little beauty-warts to choose from—for example: over her eyebrow, between her breasts, in the armpit area.) She pulls the ribbon tight, ties a double fisherman’s loop, pours herself a glass of vinegar, known among witches to prevent morning sickness, and waits.

Within a few hours, the skin tag, at first the size of an engorged tick, begins to swell and pulsate. Pulsate and swell. Soon it grows to the size of a peanut. Two tiny dots become visible near the top. These must be the eyes! And behind them, under skin like wet rice paper, a wee oyster of a brain! Little flippers appear—the hands and feet. And if you look closely at this growing lump, you may see what looks like a small black fist in the middle of the body, squeezing and pumping like it’s preparing to punch someone. That’s the baby witch’s heart!

The pregnant witch lies on her bed for the whole next day as her skin tag grows and morphs and grows some more. It is still attached to her body, but is now kicking and twisting and jerking around. Whoa there, cowgirl, says the witch. This one’s gonna be a handful!

Tradition dictates the blessed witch wait until midnight—the “bewitching hour”—to give birth. When both hands on her old grandmother clock point straight up, she gives the ends of the white satin ribbon a sharp tug, and with a hiss, a pop, and a crunch, severs the connection between herself and her parasitic offspring. The process is actually quite neat and tidy. After releasing about a quarter of a cup of minty afterbirth, the hole where the skin tag used to be closes up like a sphincter. And the white ribbon that initiated the pregnancy holds the child’s hair up in a cute top knot.

The baby witch grows quickly, and makes a lot of noise. Of course, the mother witch does not feed it, because she is teaching it to be self-sufficient right off the bat.

Unlike other children, babies of witches are born with mouths full of teeth as sharp as foxes, pubic hair in all the normal places, the ability to speak three or four languages, and the urge to flee.

But the best part of motherhood is watching the young witch try to find its way out of the home. Ha! cackles the witch. Good luck, lassie! For there is no door in the house and the only windows are shuttered with panes of shatterproof glass. Everyone knows witches fly up their own chimneys if they ever have to leave the house. But the child doesn’t know that...yet.

The mother witch laughs and laughs as the child crawls, and scratches, then climbs, jumps and even tries to fly to escape. She looks like a hen in an elevator! thinks the mother witch.

The more desperate the child witch is to get out, the more hilarious it is to watch. This doesn’t mean the witch doesn’t love her child. Quite the opposite! Love in witches equals novelty plus narcissism, and a frantic child who has the same nose as you offers both in spades.

However, in every life there are difficult decisions to be made. If the child witch doesn’t figure out how to escape soon, the mother witch will know it is weak and feeble-minded and she will roast the little thing in her oven and feed it to the cat, who is now sharpening its claws in mouth-watering anticipation.

Oh, don’t judge! A mother bird will shove her baby out of a high, high nest and watch as the terrified creature flails and spins and tries to figure out how to outsmart gravity before thunking onto the ground and smashing its itty birdie bones into smithereens. It’s called parenting.

If the child witch does figure out how to escape, and zips into the fireplace and up the chimney flue, the mother witch will go back to cracking her knuckles, spying on her neighbours, and reading spell books. That was fun, she’ll say, then pour herself another glass of vinegar, also known to prevent postpartum depression and empty-nest syndrome.

Deep down she’ll be of two minds. Partly, she’ll be relieved to have her own life back, along with all that free time. Partly, she’ll miss the noise.

And as the child flies out the chimney, over the rooftops and into night, she’ll be so happy to be free that she’ll yank the white ribbon out of her hair and throw it gleefully into the air. It will crackle and flash in the sky. People below will stop what they are doing and look up at the lightning bolt. Only a few will be aware that this is a signal that a child witch has escaped. Most people will chalk it up to a freak storm on an otherwise lovely day.

A few moments later, the ear-splitting growl of a witch’s cat will send shivers up and down the people’s spines. It seems Thunder sharpened her claws for nothing.

 

This story was originally published in Pique’s 2017 Halloween issue and appears with the author’s permission. Katherine Fawcett is a Squamish-based author of four books. Her latest, The Swan Suit (Douglas & McIntyre, March 2020), is a collection of adult short stories that examine transition, betrayal, truth and sacrifice through a feminist fairy tale lens. Fawcett is also a musician; she teaches at the Whistler Waldorf School and the Squamish Waldorf School. n

 



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