Copyright is held by the author.
Knock! with her gnarled fingers.
S-C-R-A-P-E with her scratchy nails.
Thud against somebody’s door . . .
A barefoot witch slides in a clattering bony heap to the verandah floor, crushing her hat. From her flaring nostrils dangling hairs blow about wildly. Her ferocious, sleepy eyes flash orange light beams into the night. She’s out of oomph; totally. There’s only one thing on her mind. How will I ever get my Starter Rot?
A young human who is wearing a pencil behind one ear answers the door. A notepad sticks out of her shirt pocket. Her emerald green eyes are growing big and round. The witch likes that.
“OOooh! Heh! Heh! You’re scared, eh? That’s bad!”
“Scared? No way!” The young girl’s green eyes and the witch’s orange eyes burn steadily into each other. “But we’ve run out of treats . . . Are you a real witch?”
“Yeah! Are you a real person?”
“Yeah . . .”
The witch uses her most tired cackle to list a string of worries. “Look, I gotta eat and rest or I’ll never see another Halloween. Never get my starter rot and never get back home to Eno. Never haunt Earth again. Can you give me a meal and a place to sleep?”
“Well, this is cool! Maybe we can make a deal. You can help me with my report on witches. I’ll ask if you can stay. What’s your name?”
“That’ll be Newt but the witches all call me New. What’s yours?”
“Macademia but everyone calls me Mac. You come from . . . Eno?”
“Right! Heh! Heh! That’s my planet. I’m an Eno witch. It’s miserable there. Just perfect.”
Macademia’s eyes go up. She doesn’t understand “It’s miserable there, just perfect” but anyway, she invites the witch in. New burps and with Mac’s help she hauls her skin and bones together and gets up on her feet. She then untidies her clothes with her ragged fingernails.
Every thing about this witch is disgusting. Her face is old, bumpy and cruel. She might be a thousand years old. Her bumpy hands are gnarled and purple. She smells like rotten eggs and year-old cheeseburgers. Her short dress is brownish-greenish-blackish, with dried clumps of lizard skin stuck to it everywhere. You would say the same thing about her ragged cape. An eerie, tired skeleton glows dimly amber through the outfit. When she shifts from tired leg to tired leg her knee and foot bones rattle as if there’s no muscle, flesh or skin to cushion them.
On the way to the kitchen Macademia pulls a pair of emerald green slippers from the hall closet. She hands them to New. “Here, on loan.”
Well, the last time New wore green slippers she was a baby, centuries ago. Eno’s baby witches give up their slippers as soon as they can walk. Bare feet are allowed; slimy rocks are; coldness is; brown goo is and so is snot. But slippers are too . . . too . . . pillow-like for witches. She looks and looks at them. She shouldn’t but her feet are wiggling to get into them and she has no choice. She puts them on.
New croons. Her feet feel so unbelievably good. “OHhhhh! That feels so . . . so . . . comfortable!”
Macademia clears her throat. With a shake of her head she tosses a lock of her short, dark hair away from her left eye. She tugs her brown sweater down and her jeans up, then puts her hands on her hips.
She says: “First of all, New, I have to tell you this: I have parents . . .”
“Yeah? What’s your point?”
“Well, they don’t like bad smells; actually, nor do I!”
“Mine do, and so do I.”
“Yes, well, you have to shower right away. I’ll show you what to do.”
“Shower? What’s that?”
Of course, Mac’s answer includes soap and water.
“This won’t work! See ya!” New says. She turns around and shuffles the best she can straight back down the hall, through the front door and onto the dark verandah.
“I’m leaving,” she keeps muttering to herself. She removes the slippers, grabs her broomstick, climbs on and gives it a pathetic kickstart. Nothing. She tries again. Nothing. She kicks and kicks with everything she’s got, which isn’t much, but it’s no use. New is stranded.
No way she can shower. It’s against Eno’s Hygiene rules. “But I gotta get outta here!” she says to herself.
Rules — better check the rules on Broomstickery. Maybe I’ve forgotten something. From behind the buckle of her hat she drags a scrunched up paper. She reads by the paling orange light of her eyes. Macademia reads over her shoulder:
ENO WITCHAWFULNESS RULES FOR INTERPLANETARY TRAVEL
CAUTION: Skeleton must be in full amber glow. To get the glow:
1. Eat plenty.
2. Get lots of sleep.
Note: See also Dress Code, Luxury and Comfort for causes of weakening skeleton light.
New first looks down at her dimming skeleton, then at her broom. She can only moan because she absolutely doesn’t have the skeleton for her kind of travel. She knows the simple answer is food and sleep. Shoving the paper back behind the hat buckle, she slowly turns around to Macademia. She is ticked off to be polite about it but so weak, she can’t even spit. She whines a touch, though.
“Okay, you win.”
Mac writes and talks at the same time. “Soap and water aren’t so bad.”
New clicks her tongue against her tooth. She’s thinking it’s easy for Mac to say. Only trouble is, witches from Eno don’t USE soap and water. New knows very well the Witchawfulness rule about hygiene:
1. Be proud to be dirty! Dirtiness is your trademark throughout the Universe!
2, Beware of Cleanliness!
C. Telltale Signs of Cleanliness
1. Soap and water
2. Bedsheets with no food stuck to them
3. Food with no smell of rot
Still, Macademia’s tough. No shower; no supper or sleep.
And New’s not stupid. No sleep; no skeleton glow.
No skeleton glow; no broom power. No broom power . . .
She won’t even begin to think of that.
“Good!” says Macademia. In the bathroom she explains, “Turn water on like this. Wet the soap like this.” She uses her own arm for an example. “Spread it on like this. Rinse it off like this. When I leave, take your dress and my slippers off and get in the tub.”
New gasps. “I was BORN in my dress! It grew UP with me! I can’t take it off!” She shows Macademia the section of the WITCHAWFULNESS rules about appropriate dress. Her clanky hands shake. “See? It says ‘Keep your dress on at all times.’” She returns the paper behind the hat buckle and steps into the tub wearing her dress.
“That won’t work,” Mac says and she collars New. “We take all our clothes off to shower.”
New stands defeated. She gives in with a mumbly “Okay . . . Okay, if you say so.” Heavy-hearted, she drops the slippers and dress out onto the floor and turns the shower tap on.
The peach scent of the soap smells so good that she tosses it out of the tub and asks for something that smells worse. Macademia calls back to her that it’s all they’ve got. “Sorry!”
The bumps of mud, dried egg spots, cobwebs and ancient powder all disappear down the drain with the soapy water. New is left with smooth, completely mauve skin. An attractive shade of mauve, really. And she smells peachy! She shakes her head in shock. There’s gonna be trouble. She doesn’t know what kind, but trouble.
Still, her worries soon wash away in the steaming hot water. Macademia waits and writes outside the door when she hears New chanting:
“Eno is One; Earth must be Thrae
Steady, Witchawfulness; I’m Thrae’s today!”
New’s cackle starts to lose its edge. Each time she repeats the verse, she sounds softer. By the time she’s turned off the taps, she’s thinking, Aahhhhh… now I know how a boiling frog feels. It feels rela-a-a-xed!
Somewhere during her shower New’s forgotten that Comfort can be weakening. WITCHAWFULNESS RULES list the Telltale Signs of Luxury and Comfort if she wants to review them but she doesn’t:
D. Telltale Signs of Luxury and Comfort
1. Emerald green
2. Friendly welcomes
4. Soft, clean clothes
Note: For further causes of Weakening, see also E. Dress Code.
But she pays no attention and she talks to herself. Hickle, pickle! Heck! To heck with Witchawfulness right now! In Mac’s house, comfort comes before food and sleep. I’ll just have to suffer.
New calls “Finished!” and Macademia hands her a bathrobe through the doorway. New finally looks up from admiring her skin and asks about a truly ugly face hanging on the wall.
“It’s you! You’re looking into a mirror. See? You can see me in it, too!”
New can’t hide her delight. “Heh! Imagine that. Heh!”
Macademia helps to comb the nests of tangles out of her hair and New takes another look at herself.
Hassle, Heckle, why, I’m knock-down gorgeous!
Her drab grey hair is now shiny like her eyebrows. Combine that with glowing yellow eyes, long hooked nose, brown tooth and tightly stretched smooth mauve skin, and she is possibly the best/worst looking witch she’s ever seen.
Uh, oh, except for her dismally lit skeleton. In spite of that drawback she boasts. “If I can brighten up my glow, I could actually win the INTERPLANETARY WORST LOOKING WITCH AWARD!” Mac, get my dress, will ya?”
“It’s still wet,” Macademia says. “You can put it on after supper.”
New pads happily and guiltily into the kitchen, snuggled inside the bathrobe. It’s funny for Mac to see because one foot is trying to go forward for happy while the other one edges backward for guilty. This walking style takes time, for sure.
“Got any old buggy porridge and sour milk, Mac?”
Mac can’t help making a face. “No, but I’ll fix you something.”
New dangles over a chair at the kitchen table and starts to whine because Mac is cutting and peeling vegetables.
“That won’t work! You need something smelly!”
With that she sniffs great sniffs until her nose turns to the garbage pail under the sink. She points to the open door and urges, “See, there’s what you need! The old stuff! Get a whiff of that! Sickening!”
Mac refuses to change her recipe. She dries her hands, puts a plateful of veggies in front of New and adds to her notes once more.
New’s stomach is growling like an angry motor that can’t get going. She ate her last hearty meal at lunch yesterday back home on Eno. It was a wonderfully awful soup; they boiled hundred-year old egg yolks from their rotten-egg farm with their worst sewer water and, even smellier, a pair of 1948 shredded Earth kids’ hockey socks. And the last of the Starter Rot. Starter Rot is Eno’s high-energy food for distant travel to Earth at Halloween.
New’s so hungry she dives into the stirfry without thinking. Even so she knows better and halts with the first mouthful half in and half out. She grumbles. “This doesn’t smell bad. I can’t eat it.”
“Try, New. It never killed me or my family. You need strength to get back home.”
New wouldn’t think of going into the garbage for the rotten veggies, anyway. Eno witches never fight over bad food. On her planet, there’s enough of it for everybody. She downs the stirfry and with every mouthful she looks more content. The orange eyes turn to moon yellow and her nostril hairs now wave gently over her upper lip.
New wants to praise Mac for the dinner but she can’t because if food is good, and it shouldn’t be, Eno witches keep quiet. She doesn’t want to insult the cook. She burps and leaves it at that.
So far, everything’s cool. She has a full stomach and all she needs is rest. Her eyes grow heavy while Macademia cleans up. Her head drops slowly onto the table and her arms dangle down each side of the chair. Her skeleton still glows but dimly. With each snore her bony cheeks sink in like grey caves, then blow up like grey balloons.
Macademia shakes her shoulders.
“I wish you were awake, New. My parents haven’t even met you. I’ll just have to leave a note for them on the front door and hope they let you stay. I need you for my social studies project.”
Early next morning, outside the kitchen window, a crow caws and caws until it awakens the exhausted New. New slept well and her skeleton is brighter than a bottle of Coca Cola held up to the sunlight. Now, THAT’S amber. She’ll eat breakfast and be on her way. For sure, her broomstick will take off this morning.
While waiting in the kitchen for Macademia, she walks over to the end of the sink counter. Papers and books are piled neatly there. The top paper reads:
Dear Mom and Dad,
There’s a witch in the kitchen. I’m sorry but she fell asleep before you got home. Please let her stay there. I’ll tell you why tomorrow. I’ll look after her in the morning.
The next paper says:
wtch xhstd lnds drstp
nm Nw; skltn glows
entrs; slpprs; stinks;
dslks wshng; frced hr to shwr;
strfry; hts gd fd;
As for the books one title is Witches in the Dark and Middle Ages. Another is Ten Halloween Stories. The third book is open at a chant:
toil and trouble”.
New finds nothing about Eno.
Macademia enters the kitchen ahead of her dad and mother. Right away she sends New to wash her face and brush her tooth. When she hands New’s clean dress through the bathroom door, New is awestruck. Her dress was probably smooth and black like this the day she was born! She puts it on and looks into the long mirror on the back of the door. Perfection, she admits. That’s all there is to it. She patters through the doorway and blows Macademia away.
“Wow! You look amazing. Stay here. I’ll be right back!” She runs upstairs and returns with her mother’s pearls, earrings, an emerald ring and a pair of emerald high-heeled shoes.
“Just borrowed,” she says, “so you can see the best you’ll ever look!”
New can barely stop chuckling in her cackling sort of way. “Can I go like this on my errands?”
“I’ll ask my mother. What do you have to do?”
“I fly to a dump and pick up some Starter Rot for the folks back home. It takes time to search for the worst stuff.”
Mac writes and asks at the same time. “You want garbage?”
“Yeah, for Starter Rot to go in our brews. That’s an Eno witch’s main reason for coming to Earth. We can’t afford to buy the stuff. You don’t know much about Eno witches, do ya?”
“Only what you’ve told me.”
At breakfast — orange juice, muesli with soya milk and whole wheat toast with peanut butter — Mac’s mother says fine, New can borrow the shoes and jewelry as long as she keeps it all clean.
Macademia’s dad looks unbelieving and her mother has a question. “How do I know you’ll bring it all back?”
New has it all figured out. “Heh! Heh! You can keep my kiss candy for me.”
The candy is wrapped in orange, black and white waxy paper. It doesn’t look special at all but New has an explanation. It’s her precious ticket back to Eno.
“It’s how the guards know I’ve been to Earth for pure Starter Rot and not to some other planet. I had to do a little trick or treating to get it.”
With everything settled, New is pumped. She would run down the hall with her cape flying out behind her, if only the green high heels were green low heels. She grabs her broomstick which has been resting inside the front door.
“You brought my broomstick in!” she says. She burps again. “I was worried about it! See ya later!” She’ll roll in some mud before she leaves Earth; when she lands on Eno she has to look like an Eno witch. Looking east toward the nearest garbage dump New turns her broomstick, pats its straw tail, kicks it gently and . . .
Nothing happens. She tries to stay calm but her nose hairs are blowing straight out when she breathes out and disappearing when she breathes in. She gets off her broom, stands it up, leans on it, crosses her feet and pushes her hat back. It’s all she can do not to gobble like one of Earth’s turkey vultures. She’s going crazy. Gobble! Cobble! Keckle! Heckle! Wreckle! Wreckle! Wreck! She’d like to. She pulls gently on her hair and talks to herself. “What’s going on ?? What a drag! I’ll check again. The formula never changes.” Oh, how she would like to let out a familiar old grand Puhhtooey! But no. It just wouldn’t fit while she’s so beautiful.
“Broomstickery,” she reads. “CAUTION: Skeleton must be in full amber glow. 1. Eat plenty. 2. Get lots of sleep. Note: See also Dress Code, Luxury and Comfort for causes of weakening skeleton light.”
She looks down at herself. “Aggghhhhh! Skeleton? What skeleton? Oh, no! I’ve gotta glow! This isn’t right! I GOTTA glow! I don’t get it! I ate, I slept. I glowed fine first thing this morning . . . I’m in deep trouble . . .”
She can’t think. Maybe she can’t think but if she did, she would know right away that Mac’s good food was bad for her, being from Eno and all.
Macademia says they’ll try to work something out but New shakes her head.
“I don’t feel right. I gotta rest.”
Macademia offers her bed. Up the stairs, step by agonizing step, New loses energy. Her bony shoulders bend so low that her bony fingers click on the wood steps. The B width shoes, which are an average width for Earth women, slip off at the heel. She collapses onto the bed in a heap of gloom and lets the shoes drop to the floor. She can’t see her foot bones beginning to glow slightly.
As for Mac, she sits at her desk and writes for a few minutes.
Much later, long after Macademia and her parents have left for the day, New still lies there. Dull and without a plan, she’s getting seriously out of sorts.
What if she has to stay here forever? For the first time in a day and a night she remembers fondly her cold cave and the mouldy pot where she experiments with stews of the most vomitocious kind; the slimy black boulders where her friends sit and cackle with her; where they plan new spells to scare the eyebrows off earth people. She loves haunting Earth at Halloween. But it takes a year to prepare and she has to do that with Eno witches, on Eno, where Witchawfulness and magic work best.
No magic, no ideas. Her eyelights go out quickly.
When she awakens the house is almost dark and it feels empty. New dredges herself up to a sitting position and heaves a monumentally large sigh. It settles down through her body amid the considerable clickety-clack of bones.
Her pale eyes beam light over to the mirror on the dressing table opposite. “At least my eyes are still glowing.” She watches her hand move to her dry throat. The emerald ring catches her attention and it makes her strangely cranky.
“What’s the use of that? It’s coming OFF!” She forces it over her bulbous knuckle. Instantly her hand bones light up! New’s eyes shoot jets of light all over the place. Now she sees her feet. They have bones again! “Oh, this is looking bad! Or is it good? Whatever; I’m losing it! Heh! Heh! Heh!”
She takes off the earrings and her skull turns on! “Heh! Heh! Heh! Heh! Hex! YEAH! HEX! OH, YIPPEE! I’M ME ME ME ME ME! I know now! I’ve had too much Luxury! Luxury weakens us Eno witches! Almost got sucked right in! I was dying, man!
“Almost! This thing on my neck comes off! I’ll just undo the catch and — Voila! Oh! and my back . . .” She turns it to the mirror and “YEP! it’s alight now, too! I THINK it’s time to try the broomstick again!”
At the top of the stairs she spies a paper. A quick glance tells her it’s Mac’s.
Lvs n Eno; wtchs r dffrnt frm plnet to plnet. sm glw, sm dnt.
gt shwrd; lsng skltn glow
lks gd in cln clths nd Mm’s rrngs, emrld rng, prls nd shs
hs errnd: gt grbg to tk bck to Eno
brmstck nt wrkng; skltn brnt out; sh’s rstng; sms dprssd
New can’t be bothered to figure it out. She tosses it.
Of course, the broomstick takes off over the road, no problem. Whew. What a relief!
“The city looks ghostly at dusk. Great time to travel.” New cackles. She swerves around the maple tree at the end of the road and up over the street lights. She follows her nose patiently to the stinkiest dump. There she finds rot in a colour and smell never before invented. It’s runny and it bubbles without a fire under it; even New can’t stand the smell; it smells worse than anything on the rotten egg farm back on Eno. For her own protection she wraps the rot in an extra green bag. She uses green bags because they’re reusable and the more often she fills them with stinky stuff, the smellier they become.
Excited with her find, she exits the dump and lands back at Mac’s before school is finished. She leaves her bag of rot at the end of the driveway.
Once again in the kitchen New sits waiting. She’s her old self: green, brown and bumpy, one lanky, bony leg crossed over the other. She watches the front door.
Macademia enters and drops her backpack. With one hand she covers her eyes and with the other she pinches her nose.
“Heh! Heh! Heh! I’m ME again!” New is awfully pleased with herself. “So, call me Newt from now on!”
“Okay…..” Macademia sounds a little hurt. “but I thought you liked being clean and well fed and pretty.”
“That’s true. But I couldn’t do my job that way. I couldn’t even activate my broomstick. It was pathetic. All that nice stuff was making me weak. I should have checked the RULES for Luxury and Comfort. It’s no good for us. And Dress Code. Jewelry is weakening, too. Uh, did you see my bag down the path?”
“What IS it? It smells like you! It’s . . . it’s . . .”
“I know, it’s vomitocious. Exactly what we need. A whole year’s supply of starter rot. Well, I was waiting to say goodbye and now, I gotta get outta here, lickety split.”
“How about a carob cookie before you go? For energy?”
New burps. “No, I had some sour buttermilk when I was messing around in the dump. Heh! Heh! ROLLING around in the dump is more like it.” She stands and yanks her dress around so that it doesn’t hang straight. She couldn’t be glowing brighter.
“You are so ugly, Newt!”
“Why do you burp whenever people are nice to you?”
“On Eno, that’s good manners, or I could say, bad manners, I guess. What do YOU do when people are nice to you?”
“We say thank you.”
Newt cawed, Heh! Heh! Heh! for the longest time. And Macademia laughed, Hah! Hah! Hah! for the longest time. They sounded pretty much the same.
At the door, Newt pulled a book from the straw in her broomstick. “A Handbook of Eno Witchery. It’s for you.”
“Oh, it’s perfect for my project!”
“I know. Heh! Heh! Nothing on your desk mentioned us Eno witches.”
“No, only the notes I’ve written about you. This could help a lot. I don’t know what to say. Oh, yes, I do.” And what does Mac do but take a humungous breath that lets her come out with a humungous burp.
Newt is so touched that she says thank you. Oh, Witchawfulness, this friendship feels so…so…… good, I’m getting outta here.
Newt tightens the kiss candy into her ear and on the verandah she straddles her broomstick. Her eyes darken to orange and her finger veins pulsate strongly. She’s completely powered up. She kicks gently.
Macademia urges her to drive carefully and swoosh! New’s on her way home in early moonlight.
When she looks back she notices Mac through her front door, cleaning up. Newt sends a strong gust of wind down that nearly swipes Mac off her feet. It blows the mess out the door. New cackles, “That’s the last kind thing I’ll be doing for another year!”
“Moonlightly iced magical stick;
Fast! Get this Starter Rot home,
‘fore I’m sick!”
And somewhere between Eno and Earth, this message is blowing around:
I lk Nwt.
Sh gv me a vry thghtfl gft.
I lrnd lts f thngs abt Eno wtchs.
I hpe sh cms bck nxt Hllwn.