It wasn’t a dark and stormy night. The wind wasn’t howling through the trees. None of all the spooky stuff.
There was a bright moon lighting the path though. It was late October, and it had been a lovely day. Bethany had spent most of her day in the garden, getting it ready for winter.
She’d swept the leaves together and put the wood she could use for her fire in the woodshed. She loved the Fall. Especially these crisp, almost summery days. Everything slowed down. Soon it would be Halloween. Summer’s last spat, taking them from the light, into the darkness.
Holidays didn’t mean much to her since she lived alone. For the kids venturing that far out of town, she tried to make a feast of it. Lanterns on the path to the door. A few pumpkins, carving them was on the program for the weekend. The odd broom parked here and there. The spiders generally took care of themselves. And, of course, the best candy. Her mother had always made a big deal out of the night. Costumes, candy, nothing was too much trouble.
The children of the town often called Bethany ‘The Witch from the Hill’. Or, if she was in luck, ‘The Halloween Witch’. Her straight, raven black hair and her tall figure made her appear as such. Most of them saw her once a year. She didn’t come into town often. It wasn’t the kids she wanted to avoid.
Mulling it over in her mind she stirred her soup. She’d changed into her warm pyjamas. The first frost of the season was expected that night. A glass of wine stood on the kitchen counter next to the first batches of cupcakes.
Looking at the soup, she had to smile. Maybe she was a witch after all. She’d made it from intuition. A little of this, a dash of that. Almost like brewing a potion. She might imagine it to be a love potion that evening. Find a soppy movie that would let her believe true love’s kiss would lift the curse. It would be nice to believe again. In real life, it didn’t. But who cared about real life?
A loud knock on the door startled her. It was dark outside. She’d not heard a car on the driveway. Nor was she expecting anyone.
“Hello!” She heard a man’s voice yell out. “I need help. Could I please…?”
There was another knock. Bethany stared at the door, trying to see through it. She heard the desperate undertone in the voice.
Being a woman alone and not having any close neighbours made her careful.
“I’m sorry to disturb you. Maybe you know something about cars?”
She laughed. First, she opened the little window so she could see him. “Don’t know anything about cars, I’m sorry.”
He looked nice, she thought, as he stood there in her porch light. Short, dark, curly hair. As tall as she was. Kind face. He looked lost though.
“Could I use your phone, I mean…” He held up his. It was dead. “My battery died.”
“Oh my, we are in trouble.” Bethany took a step back.
“I mean you no harm, lady. I swear. One phone call and I’ll be out of your hair. You’ll be perfectly safe.”
Bethany’s laugh sounded through the door. She opened it and stepped aside. “You say I’m safe, but can you be certain you will be?”
A split second he seemed to doubt. Eric stared at her, weighing his chances. “I think I will be. But in the end, it’s the risk I’m going to have to take. Don’t think I’ll be any safer waiting by the side of the road for a lift.”
“You’ve got a point. Through there, please. I’m Bethany.”
He held out his hand so she could shake it. She did, it was cold. “Eric.”
As Eric had walked up to the house, the white stone path, the soft light on the porch, he’d tried to form an idea of the persons living there. This was not what he had guessed. But the tall woman, with long raven black hair, was fitting. This place could easily be a witch’s dwelling, and she could easily get away with being a witch if she’d not worn those adorable, fluffy purple pyjamas.
“Ehm…” He held up his phone again. All his numbers were in there.
“Of course.” Bethany walked to a corner, handed him a charger and pointed out the socket.
“It will take a moment to get going,” Eric said, looking around the room. It looked friendly. Large couch, two comfortable seats. A roaring fire in the hearth. Hardwood floor with a colourful rug on it.
It smelled divine too. As he turned, he could see into the kitchen. A lonely glass of wine, what looked like a gazillion cupcakes, and a big pot emitting smoke.
“I was making soup. Can I offer you some? You look like you’re cold.”
He stared at her mouth, hearing what she said, but unable to answer yet. He’d not been speechless for ages, not since he was a stumbling teenager, trying to ask the prettiest girl to the prom and miserably failing.
“Don’t worry, it’s a hearty vegetable soup, you know. I was all out of cat’s whiskers, donkey eyes, or unicorn blood.” She gave him a calm smile. Her dark eyes settled on his face, reading him.
“I’m sorry.” He averted his gaze. “Yes, that would be lovely. You don’t have to.”
“It’s no trouble at all.” Bethany wasn’t a natural born entertainer, but she cared about people.
A ping made them both jump up.
In the kitchen, Bethany took a tray of cupcakes from the oven. She felt Eric’s gaze on her back. “For my nieces. Their school is having a bake sale tomorrow, and my sister is lousy at baking.” She turned to see him. “Sit down. Please.” He sat down at her kitchen table and watched her lay the table. The vibe he got was almost magic. The smell of soup and warm cake. Crispy bread and butter on the table.
“I didn’t expect visitors, sorry.”
“No, don’t be. This is…” It was so much more than he’d ever counted on. Much more than he was used to.
“Maybe a glass of this as well? I mean, it seems you won’t be driving anywhere tonight.”
“Oh, right. Yes, thank you. But again.”
“I know.” If anything Bethany was an ace at reading people. She was in no danger from him. From whoever he might call perhaps, but not him. He was as gentle a soul as had ever crossed her doorstep.
“So, you’re lost, your car broke down, and your phone died on you. How do you get into trouble like that?”
A small draft ran through the kitchen. Bethany ignored it.
“I honestly don’t know. My bad luck seems to seep into every little part of my life at the moment.” He sipped the wine. Its warmth spread through his body. He needed that. After all he’d been through over the past week he was at the point where he hardly cared if she was going to kill him or not.
“Tell me about it.”
Again he frowned.
“No, I’m serious. Tell me about it. I swear, full confidentiality within these walls.” She’d heard quite some secrets throughout her life. Her energy made people feel at ease.
In between eating his soup, drinking the wine, and watching her eat, he told her how he’d lost his job. Which meant having to leave his apartment as well, as he couldn’t pay the rent anymore. He’d packed up his most prized possessions and drove out here, to celebrate Halloween with his sister and her family. Hoping he might stay until after Christmas. “It’s a hard time to look for a job.”
“It is,” Bethany confirmed. “What kind of work do you do?” When shaking hands, she’d felt the callous of someone who was used to hard work on his fingertips.
“Jack of all trades. I worked in a hotel most recently, but it went bankrupt.”
“That sucks.” The movement she made with her hand completely escaped him. “I hope your sister can help you. This town has a lot of opportunities for someone handy. But as you said, it might be hard this time of year.” Her voice was steady and warm. Heartfelt even.
He looked at her eyes again and wondered if she said those things to comfort him. Either way, he took his win.
The mobile phone in the background gave a stir, just as he’d finished his soup. Together they got up. “It was delicious, thank you.” It was the first sufficient meal he’d had in ages.
He made his phone call. Meanwhile, Bethany cleared the table. “Ssst.” She distinctly hissed to the fridge.
“Bethany, where are we anyway?” He had to give his sister directions at where to go.
“Witch’s house on the Hill.” She answered calm as day. She’d taken a plate and put a few cupcakes on it. She tried not to listen to the phone call. Could well imagine the conversation.
“She’s on her way, might be a while though.” Eric walked up to Bethany.
“Good, after I put the icing on, you can sprinkle that over them.” She handed him a little jar of orange, brown and green sprinkles. He saw the shapes of ghosts, pumpkins and bats.
“How much?” He had done many things in his life. Decorating cupcakes wasn’t one of them.
“However much you want.” He gave a clear impression she’d given him an impossible task.
“They’re for your family, so what makes you and them happy.” She cleared up.
“I can bake more. It’s not alchemy. They’re done in a few minutes. The oven does the rest.”
He shook the jar, and the little figurines came tumbling out. When he saw them on the icing, it suddenly made a lot more sense.
“See, nothing to it,” Bethany said as she swirled icing over another one.
“So, Witches’ house on the Hill?”
“My female ancestors were midwives, healers, specialists in healing herbs and medicine from nature. It earned them the name ‘Witch’.
“Are you a witch?” He had to wonder.
She shook her head. “I can bake, and I can make an okay soup.”
“A great soup. Best soup I ever had.”
“Hmm, you have low standards.” She took the compliment with a warm smile though. She was so different from women he’d met before. “But I can’t heal like they could.”
This time he caught a lock of her hair moved by the draft.
“It’s an old house.” She merely said, counting the cupcakes. “Five of you?”
He counted. His sister, her husband, their two boys, and him. “Yes.”
She put ten cakes on a plate and covered them with foil. “I’ll get the plate back some day. Don’t worry, it’s not a family heirloom.”
“You needn’t have gone through all that trouble.”
“Yes, I had.”
Together they stood at the kitchen counter, staring at each other. “I hope your luck will turn soon.”
He reached out and touched her cheek, wanting to know if she was for real.
“It feels like I’m in a fairy tale. If I come back up this way, you will still be here, right? You’ll not have disappeared with people telling me the house has been empty for decades.”
Her laugh rang through the room. “That bad, huh? No worries. It’ll be here. Although you might not come back this way again.”
He tilted his head.
“People rarely do. Only the children.” It wasn’t the entire truth, but it would have to do.
“Lonely isn’t bad.”
A car horn sounded from the driveway. “Your ride is here. It was a pleasure to meet you.” She picked up the plate and pushed it into his hands.
“Likewise.” He was lost. She clearly gave the signal he shouldn’t get close. Why did he feel the need to hug her? Usually, he was more adept at reading people.
After a moment’s doubt, he quickly moved forward and kissed her cheek. “I have a strange feeling my luck has already changed. It was a lucky streak that I ended up at your doorstep tonight. Thank you so much.”
There was a blush and a smile. And another blow of the horn outside. “You’d better go.”
She walked him to the door and watched him get into the car. They drove off into the darkness.
She rested her back to the closed door. Alone again.
This time the draft seemed to carry a whisper. “No, Gran. You can’t do this. You can’t meddle in his life.” Bethany decidedly said.
A block falling over in the fire made her jump up. “Stop it.” She said to herself. Having company had been nice. Most people didn’t feel at home in her house. Some said it was cursed. Maybe it was. Bethany didn’t believe it. It was the open, almost childlike energy it had. It made adults feel on edge and vulnerable. They didn’t come to Bethany. Not unless they were desperate for help.
Kids didn’t have the same reservations. Neither had Eric that night.
Bethany did some work that morning. She was in the middle of a big editing job. Her ancestors had trusted on herbal remedies, and moon tidings. Words were Bethany’s method of choice. They held so much power.
After a few hours of hard work, she packed up the cupcakes and drove out to the city on the other side of the hill. She didn’t go to the town she lived in much. Mostly she chose to go the other way, where her sister lived. Emily had moved away from her parental home and started a family away from it.
Regularly she gave Bethany the chat about it. What the hell she was doing in that old and draughty house? All alone on that hill. Emily shuddered at the thought. Why didn’t she sell it and buy a nice flat in the city, closer to her?
“I’m waiting for true love's kiss to break the curse.” Bethany merely said. They were setting up for the bake sale. Emily was always asked to join. Neither of them bothered saying that Bethany was the Chef. Bethany loved that her little sister allowed her to be part of their family life. Of course, Bethany had had boyfriends. They went from bad, to worse, to awful. In the end, she’d pretty much given up. She was probably destined to be alone. Or maybe she was cursed with bad luck.
“At least come down to celebrate Halloween with us.” Emily pushed.
The elder sister had to refuse. “The kids. They’re counting on me being there.”
“You should get kids of your own.”
Bethany didn’t answer. She’d have loved to. But it had never come to that. Though not impossible, time was running out. She was 36, not the best age to start a family. “I’ll stick to yours. At least I can give them back when they’ve worn me out.” She regularly babysat the twins. Sometimes at her sister’s home, other times they stayed over at Bethany’s. Running through the garden, or in bad weather playing up in the attic where generations of furniture, trinkets, ghosts, and dust had gathered. It held an irresistible appeal to them.
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