Good morning! I was up bright and early today because I was on the radio this morning. I had a great talk about all things Halloween with Tara Clow on News 91.9--in fact, that could be why you're here now! Could also be because Scotty and Tony of XL 96.9 invited me to have an interview, and that was aired this morning. Thanks to Scotty and Tony, as well as Tara and Shaun, for having me on this morning! It was great talking with all of you!
To celebrate Halloween, I'm bringing a short story back from the dead. I wrote this three years ago and spent part of yesterday revising it. This is a Halloween short story, but those of you who are fans of my horror work may be a little disappointed! This is more of a whimsical Halloween tale, spun for a children's audience. It might be a good one to read to the little ones. Hope you enjoy it, despite its decided lack of spookiness...
Mrs. Winter's Witch Cats, by K. M. Cooper
For as long as I can remember, we lived next door to a kindly old lady. She lived alone, except for her three cats: Samuel was an enormous grey tabby, Edward was a sleek and slender black cat, and Winter was a beautiful white longhaired cat. This lady went by the name of Mrs. Winter. I thought it strange she had a cat with her same last name, but Winter the cat did look an awful lot like her. Mrs. Winter had these two piercing amber-green eyes, just like a cat's, and her hair was long and white, though she usually wore it back in a single, long braid.
Mrs. Winter's house looked like it came straight from a fairy tale. Outside she had the most beautiful and well-cared-for rosebushes and lilac trees. She had a long wooden deck that had an awning over it and looped all around the house, and underneath sat a little rocking chair. All around the deck there were boxes and boxes of flowers, as well as a number of hanging plants. I suppose you can imagine how lovely the place looked in the summertime, when all sorts of butterflies and little ruby-throated hummingbirds flocked to her front yard to feed on the nectar. The backyard was just as lovely, with a couple of fruit trees that we could see if we went on our toes on the fence and peeked over, and a vegetable and herb garden that took up most of the soil back there. An arbor (that's what Mother said it was called) decorated with vines of roses and orange flowers I didn't know the name of welcomed whoever entered, and a little pond sat under one of her fruit trees. Mrs. Winter had a very big backyard, and how my sister and I longed to play in it!
One day in the summer, Mrs. Winter showed up on our doorstep and knocked three times precisely. My mother answered the door, for I had been told never to answer it myself at my age.
"Well hello, Mrs. Winter. This is a nice surprise," said Mother.
"Hello, Mrs. Daly," Mrs. Winter replied. "I wonder if I might borrow your girls for awhile?" I couldn't see them, but my little sister, Beth, and I could hear them from the living room, where we had been playing with our dolls.
"Oh? Whatever for?" my mother asked.
"Well, you see," Mrs. Winter began, "the beetles have been destroying most of my potato crop this year. I thought to give your girls a small opportunity to make some pocket change."
"I'll see how they feel about that! Girls, could you come here, please?" she called. Beth and I neatly placed our dolls on the floor--we didn't want to hurt them after all--and we gathered ourselves and rushed to the door, where Mrs. Winter was standing, smiling pleasantly.
"Good afternoon Trill and Beth," she said to us. "My, how you've grown! How old are you both?" I glanced at Beth, and the way she bit her lip indicated that I should be the one to speak.
"I'm eight," I told her, "and Beth is five." Beth nibbled her lip again.
"Hi," she said meekly.
"Now, children," said Mrs. Winter, "would you like to come help me in the garden, please?"
About ten minutes later, Beth and I stood in Mrs. Winter's garden, a bucket in each of our hands.
"Now, what I'd like for you to do is carefully pluck any beetles that are yellow with stripes off any plants you see and place them in the bucket," said Mrs. Winter. "Take care not to kill them," she added.
"Why don't you want us to kill them?" I asked. "Aren't they pests?" Mrs. Winter smiled.
"Even pests are a very important part of the world around us, Trill," she told me. "It's very important that we not kill these beetles. If we do, they may not be food for other creatures, like birds and spiders. We will take them someplace else to thrive so that they may not harm us any longer." I paused to let this sink in, then nodded. Mrs. Winter's smile grew a bit.
"We will take them out together, and I will count all of the beetles in your buckets and give you a dime for every one," she said. As soon as she said this, Beth and I set to work, scouring potato plants all over and picking off the little striped beetles we found. Every now and again I would drop one of my beetles in Beth's bucket. Since she was a fair bit younger than I, she wasn't quite as fast to see or take the beetles from the leaves as I was. Every time she noticed me dropping a beetle in, though, she'd swat my hand.
"Stop it, Trill. I can do it on my own," she scolded me.
An hour later, we had picked every potato beetle in the vicinity of the garden and no more could be found. Mrs. Winter had gone into the house about ten minutes before, and she was just returning as I had secretly placed the final beetle in Beth's bucket.
"Well done, girls!" she praised us. As we looked over to her, we saw that she was carrying a round tray with two glasses of lemonade and a small blue plate with what looked like cookies on it. "You've worked very hard, so it's time for a break. We'll put a lid on your buckets so the beetles won't escape - " as she said this, she placed the tray on the back steps of the deck " - and then we'll have a little treat. How's that?" She gave us each a bucket lid that she had left on the deck, both of which were peppered with tiny holes, and we snapped them on the buckets before any beetles could escape. By then, Beth had already made a run to sit on the steps of the deck. That much work for such a small child was tiring, especially on such a hot day.
"Look, Trill," said Beth, pointing to the cookies on the plate. "They look like cats." Indeed, each cookie was cut out to look like a cat, and all of them had icing to look like one of Mrs. Winter's cats. One had black and grey icing like Samuel's tabby stripes, one was all in black icing like Edward's sleek coat, and one was done in pure white like to look like Winter.
"Those cookies look like my cats, if you've noticed," said Mrs. Winter. "That's because I think about my cats all the time--even when I'm baking. They're my best friends." As she said that, Edward walked by and brushed against my arm, purring loudly. "Edward is the friendliest one," continued Mrs. Winter, "Samuel is a big grouch, and Winter's a little bit aloof, but they're all wonderful cats." Beth giggled as Edward started to lick her hand.
My sister and I ate our cookies and drank our lemonade, then Mrs. Winter asked us to take a walk with her, and to bring the beetles in the buckets along and we would count them together.
We started walking down the street. Not too far from where we lived, there was a little park with a pond that was home to some ducks and geese. Mrs. Winter led us down the little path that wound down through maple trees and circled around the pond. This path led us to a little meadow where we could hear all sorts of small creatures chirping and singing.
"Girls, this is where we're going to let the beetles fly free," she said as she handed each of us our respective buckets, and we prepared to remove the lid.
"Wait," I blurted, "how are we going to count them if we're going to let them fly free?" Mrs. Winter smiled very slightly, and somewhat suspiciously. That smile surprised me; I suddenly knew she had a plan.
"Just wait and see," she said in a quiet voice. "Now, on the count of three, remove the lid and cast the bucket out, and see what happens!" Beth and I looked at each other, grinning, and then we started to count together. On three, we swiftly removed the lids and we pitched our buckets forward. What happened amazed us both.
The group of potato beetles all leapt out of buckets and took to the air in flight. They all flew together, like a gaggle of geese would, and created a swarm. Then, they started to take on a collective form, and spelt out the number "56" in midair!
"Wow!" Beth and I gasped together. I glanced toward Mrs. Winter, who wasn't paying me any mind; she was gazing at the beetles herself. She gave a little wink toward the beetles, and suddenly they dispersed and flew off. I saw her look toward us then.
"Well," she said with the same mysterious smile, "it looks like I owe you girls five dollars and sixty cents!"
Over the next several months, Mrs. Winter had been getting us to help her out a little around her house. Usually this was with growing things of all kinds. She would always give us the cat-shaped cookies when our work was done, as well as a drink to refresh us. Each time we helped, one of the three cats would be watching us intently. Each one had a different way of telling us we did something wrong. Samuel would yowl loudly at us or swat at us, Edward would brush up against us and direct us to show us how to do it right, and Winter would merely lie there and block us from doing it wrong again.
"They're funny cats," I said to Mother one night over supper, "they always know when we don't do something right and tell us in their own ways."
"Cats don't do that, sweetie," Mother replied.
October arrived, and the leaves were changing colours and falling to the ground. The day before Thanksgiving, Mrs. Winter had us over to help her with her pumpkins. When we walked into her backyard, we immediately noticed all kinds of lights winking in and out, sparkling in thin air and spiralling down before disappearing. Beth and I gasped in wonder and tried to catch one of the lights.
"What are these?" I asked, watching as Beth clapped her hands over a light. "Are they fireflies?" Beth withdrew her hands to find them empty, and she pouted.
"It's a bit cold this time of year for fireflies, don't you think, Trill?" Mrs. Winter asked me.
"I suppose," I replied with some hesitation. "But then, what are they?" Mrs. Winter smiled and shrugged.
"I'm not really sure," she said in reply. "They're pretty, though, aren't they? They always appear around autumn then get stronger until Halloween. I wish the would stay with me through winter, to keep me and the cats company."
"Through winter?" I asked. Mrs. Winter nodded.
"Yes, my least favorite season," she said gravely. "I can't stand winter." As if on cue, Winter the cat walked delicately past with her dainty little nose in the air. Mrs. Winter stooped to give her a gentle pat. "Of course I don't mean you, my dear," she chuckled.
We helped to pick some of the pumpkins, then, and put them out on Mrs. Winter's front porch. As a special treat, she let us each take home whichever pumpkin we liked from her garden, and she helped us to carve those pumpkins after Thanksgiving had passed.
A couple of weeks later, the day before Halloween, Beth and I were busy making last minute preparations with Mother.
"I want to be a friendly witch!" I cried happily as Mother worked away at her sewing machine to make the perfect little witch's dress for me.
"I want to be the black cat!" Beth cried in reply, bringing her hands, balled up like paws, under her chin and making a little meowing sound. I giggled and scratched her on the head.
"Good kitty!" I said.
"Meow!" Beth replied. Just then, we were all surprised to hear a knock at the door.
"Girls," said Mother, pausing a moment in her sewing, "could you go look through the peephole and see who it is? If it's someone we know, send them in. If not, come and get me." Beth and I raced to the door, and being the taller one, I was able to look through the peephole. Looking back was Mrs. Winter, though I don't think she could see me. I jumped excitedly and pulled the door open, to which I was greeted by her familiar smile.
"Mrs. Winter!" my sister and I said with uncontained excitement.
"Hello, girls!" Mrs. Winter replied. "I'm looking for some very special help today." Beth and I looked at eachother with wide eyes. Mrs. Winter had never said special help before... we knew this must be very important. "Will you girls help me decorate my house for Halloween? I have the outside taken care of, but not the inside." My eyes widened, and if I had been looking at Beth at the time, I'm sure I would have seen her eyes growing just as wide. You see, at this point, neither Beth nor I had ever set foot in Mrs. Winter's house, and the two of us had always spoken of the interior in hushed voices and utmost secrecy, spinning wild tales with our childish imaginations. This meant it was time to discover if any of those tales were true. Beth and I nodded our reply, and we called to Mother to inform her of where we were going, then darted out the door to accompany Mrs. Winter. When we arrived at the doorway to the house, we stood outside for a moment to collect our thoughts as Mrs. Winter headed in before us.
"Well, girls, are you coming in, or are you going to stand there all day?" she asked as she peered at us from inside the house. Beth and I glanced briefly at eachother, and as the older sister, I took it upon myself to take a step over the threshold first.
When you are eight years old, you begin to lose faith in your imagination. Things that used to seem plausible in your mind seem to lose credibility when you turn eight. Imagine my surprise when I was told expressly by merely looking at the interior of Mrs. Winter's house that my imagination still had some significance, and that not everything I made up in my mind was wrong or silly.
Mrs. Winter's house was simply magical. No wallpaper or plain colours graced her wall; she had murals of trees everywhere you looked, and on the ceiling depicted a different sky in every room. The main room had what looked like an early morning sky, with some lingering stars and dark blue on one side, but a pink-streaked lavender on another side. The lavender merged to a bright coral, then pale orange, then the beginnings of a light blue. As I glanced in the living room, I saw a cerulean blue afternoon sky, dappled with puffy and friendly white clouds. I couldn't see any other rooms immediately, but I could assume that the kitchen had a glorious sunset, and the bedroom had a peaceful night sky with a sprinkling of stars and--probably accurate--constellations. The trees on the walls had little lights that peeked out in mushroom-shaped sconces, and even when I looked closely, I couldn't tell if the lights were actual lightbulbs or fairy lights. All of the furniture in the house, that I could see, looked to be very elegant, with delicate swirls carved into the wood and velvet green cushions. I took a glance back at Beth, who was trembling in excitement.
"Do you like my house?" Mrs. Winter asked cheerfully. Beth and I nodded vigorously and stepped forward to follow her. Just then, the three cats, Samuel, Edward, and Winter ran by. As they ran, a little trail of bright, shining dust trailed behind each of their tails and hung in the air behind them. Each cat had their own distinct trail; Samuel's was silver, Edward's was bright orange, and Winter's was pink. Beth and I stared after the cats, then I gave one of the pieces of dust a little poke. It merely drifted lazily in the air a moment before settling back to where it was. I was sure I heard it giggle, so I jumped back in surprise and looked toward Mrs. Winter, who was standing there with the cats sitting around her. Interestingly, a wreath of the sparkling dust had floated up to form a slight aura about her, and the cats were flicking their tails gently, sending off more of the dust. The most curious part was the fact that there was nothing on the cat's tails, leading me to believe that the dust was coming out of their tails, not off them.
"Come here a moment, girls," Mrs. Winter said. "I have a favor to ask of you." We stepped forward and walked over to where Mrs. Winter was standing. She gestured to the cats. "My cats have a very special ability. They can make pretty baubles and lights, but they won't last longer than midnight on November 1st. I thought both of you would like to see these lights, as well as the other children in the neighbourhood." At last, I found my tongue.
"How do they do it? The cats?" I asked. Mrs. Winter smiled mysteriously.
"Who knows?" she said.
"How do you want us to help?"
"Watch this." Mrs. Winter reached out her hand and plucked one of the motes that was drifting around her, then, holding it in her hand, she moved it over to the wall and placed it there, where it hung as though suspended by something. "If you could do this all through the entryway and living room, I would be very grateful." A sudden excitement welled up inside of me. I stepped forward and plucked several of the motes out of the air, one of each colour, and off I went, placing them in the air through the room. Beth made a very pretty collective of them by a tall and elegant lamp, which stood in the corner of the living room. To me, the lamp looked as though it was being lit by dozens of shining silver, orange and pink fairies. I left the living room to Beth and stayed in the entry, myself, placing some of the sparkling motes against the wall by the painted on trees. This made the trees look as though they might be growing some brightly-coloured fruit. I stopped for a moment when I saw a picture hanging from the wall. It was hung where a tree branch had been painted, and it was made to look as though it was in fact hanging from the tree. I placed the motes in the air in front of me to hang as I examined the picture.
This picture was a photograph of a smiling man, probably just a bit younger than my grandfather at the time. Underneath the picture was a small plaque which read "Samuel Edward Winter, Oct. 31, 1934 - Nov. 1, 2001". I blinked a few times, then heard Mrs. Winter's voice behind me.
"Ah," she said quietly, "perhaps you've just discovered the secret of my three cats." I blinked and turned around quickly.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Winter," I uttered hastily, "I didn't mean to-"
"It's fine!" Mrs. Winter replied, lifting a hand. "That, Trill, is a picture of my husband a year before he died. I named each of my cats after one part of his name. After he died, you see, I needed some company, so I got these three." As she spoke those words, Samuel, Edward, and Winter all came over and sat down beside her.
"Why?" I heard Beth say. I turned and saw her walking from the living room into the entryway. "Why did you name them after your husband?" Mrs. Winter chuckled.
"That's a little funny, actually. You see, when my husband died I was so upset that I wanted to forget about him, but when I got the three cats I couldn't think of anything to name them. Sam had three sides to him, you see. A grumpy side," - here she gestured to Samuel - "a warm and friendly side," - she gestured to Edward - "and a vain side," - she gestured, finally, to Winter. I pointed to the dates on the plaques.
"So is that why the magic runs out on November first?" I asked.
"My, you are clever girls! Yes, though I have no way to prove it, I believe that is why," Mrs. Winter said with a nod.
"But how come the cats can do magic?" Beth asked, tilting her head to the side.
"I'm really not sure, to be honest with you," Mrs. Winter said with an apologetic tone. "I think that when Sam died, some of the magic he brought to this house stayed behind and attached itself to the cats." She smiled a little, her eyes shining with something between happiness and sadness. "That's what I think."
Beth and I finished with our decorating. When we were done, all of the entry hall and living room looked like a woodland fairy palace. The three cats sat to Mrs. Winter's side as she handed my sister and me treat bags.
"Stop by tomorrow night when you're trick-or-treating. The magic is its strongest on Halloween and you'll really see those lights shine!"
After school the next day, Beth and I were dressed in our Halloween finery.
"Meow meow," said Beth.
"Come on, Edward!" I said to her. Mother looked at the two of us in absolute bewilderment.
"Edward's a boy's name, dear," she said to me.
"But he's the nicest one," I told her, without further explanation. Mother didn't question this further.
"Remember to stay just to our street," she told us, "and don't go into any strangers' houses."
"We won't," I reassured her.
"Meow meow," Beth echoed in a similar tone. Mother handed us each an empty pillowcase, and we were on our way. We said that we would wait until the very last house to see Mrs. Winter so we could spend some extra time with her, and see the house in full decor after dark. We walked down our street, the sun setting behind us, and set out on our quest for candy. One hour later, we were walking back towards home, our pillowcases very nearly filled with candy, cans of pop, chocolate and chips. Our arms were getting heavy and sore, but we stopped by Mrs. Winter's house all the same, of course, and knocked three times. Moments later, Mrs. Winter opened the door.
We were very surprised to see how youthful Mrs. Winter looked. It was as though she had reversed time and aged fifteen years younger. Her hair was lovely and black with only slight greying, and some of her wrinkles had reversed themselves. What surprised us still was the music and sounds that we heard inside.
"Come in, girls!" said Mrs. Winter. She opened the door a little wider, and in we went.
The house looked incredible. The light motes had transformed themselves into little fairy spiders made of pure light, and they were connected by wispy light webs. Accompanying their transformation, they were giggling, singing, and whirling about the room in random patterns; some of them were moving slowly, and others quickly. Suddenly, Samuel ran past our feet in hot pursuit of one of those spiders. I could only guess that the other cats were doing the same in other parts of the house.
"Well, these lights have never behaved this way before!" Mrs. Winter said. "Girls, you did a really wonderful job decorating! I can't help but wonder if you might have some magic of your own!" Beth and I looked at each other with wide eyes. We couldn't help but wonder, either!
As fairy spiders wizzed past us on their ghostlike webs, Mrs. Winter plucked two of them out of the air. One was an orange one, which was my favorite colour, and a pink one, which was Beth's favorite colour.
"If you have your own magic," Mrs. Winter said in a low voice, "and you wish hard enough, maybe these will last beyond midnight." She handed these spiders to me and Beth, where they crawled up our arms, shoulders, then to the top of our heads, where they stayed in our hair like barettes.
"Happy Halloween, girls," said Mrs. Winter, leaning down and collecting us in a hug.
"Happy Halloween, Mrs. Winter!"
As we left Mrs. Winter's house, I could have sworn I saw the picture of her husband Sam winking at us. It was probably only my imagination, though.
The next day, we walked by Mrs. Winter's house and got a quick glimpse of the inside just as she was walking out the door. Not only was every fairy spider and light web gone from the house, but Mrs. Winter looked every bit as elderly as she had in days before, and not at all like she had on Halloween night. She waved to us, and as we waved back, our fairy spiders moved just slightly on our heads. They were still there, reminding us that perhaps Mrs. Winter had been right when she said we had magic of our own. That year, we had certainly had an exciting Halloween adventure with our next door neighbor, who was undoubtedly a witch of some kind, and her friends, the witch cats.
If you have any Halloween stories of your own you'd like to share, please add them to the comments section, or post a link there! I'd love to read them.
Have a safe and happy Halloween! And to those of you who'll be up until midnight preparing for NaNoWriMo, happy writing!