by Dina Leacock
The blackened caldron sat over the open flames in the hearth, the glue-like concoction inside bubbling slowly like the mudpots in Yellowstone. Esmeralda pushed a strand of her white, tangled hair away from her face and stirred the pot. Looking out the warped window, she gazed past the reflection of the incredibly old crone staring back and watched the leaves blow in the moonlight . Cold air leaked through the cracks in the panes, and she shivered as she squinted at her recipe book, wishing she had better glasses.
“Damn it,” she muttered, “that fourth ingredient is always the hardest to find.” She snickered and thought back to just a few decades ago. It used to be easy until the damned 1960s: just find a maid gathering flowers or herbs and it would be a sure bet she’d be a virgin. But, ah, nowadays, if they were in her forest, they surely weren’t virgins at all. If they were in the woods, it was to get laid.
She looked back out the cracked glass at the bitter night, sighed with ages-old resignation, then grabbed her broom. She pushed open the old wooden door, stepped out among the wildly dancing leaves and felt the pull of her long black dress as the gusts whipped at her. She knew her cape was billowing out behind her, and she wished someone would pass by and see how magnificent she looked at that moment. But no one did, so she pulled her hood up over her white crown of long knotted curls and flew out in the late October winds.
She shivered but smiled as well. “Gotta love the fall! Nothing like the invigoration of being out in nature as she changes her clothes.” Nodding, she added, “Think I’ll write that line down when I’m done tonight.”
Once over the local hospital, Esmerelda quietly touched down on the roof and snuck inside. She skulked through the almost deserted corridors, knowing the way she looked would only cause problems. She hated run-ins with the local authorities. They were always polite, but she knew what they were really thinking: uh-oh look at that batty old biddy.
She shook her head as she crept into the lab and thought that of all the things she hated about the last century, it was the lack of respect for her kind she despised the most. Chuckling softly, Esmerelda whispered into the silence, “It was almost better when they hunted us down.” She waited in the dark room, lost in her memories of the good old days, until she heard someone enter and flick on the lights.
She was delighted to see it was her niece Gloria.Esmerelda smiled, showing her yellowed crooked teeth “Got some?” she stage whispered.
Gloria shrieked and jumped back, her orange curls bouncing with the movement. She put a hand to her mouth, and her hazel eyes were wide with fear. “Cripes, Aunt Esmeralda, you scared the heck outta me. You gotta stop sneaking in here. I could lose my job!”
Esmeralda frowned and studied the young woman in front of her. There was a strong resemblance between them thanks to the auburn curls and the greenish eyes. Even the dimples on each side of her mouth were mirrored in Gloria. ard to believe she’d been that young and pretty once. She shook off the momentary regret of lost youth and snapped, “Look, I don’t have time, did you get me the virgin’s blood?”
Gloria frowned back. She reached into the pocket of her jack-o-lantern print scrubs and pulled out a blood-filled vial. “You got the money? You know virgins are tough to find. I think I’m going to have to raise the rate.”
Esmeralda cackled and showed her snaggle toothed grin. “Gloria, greed is unbecoming, as unbecoming as, say… a frog.”
Gloria laughed as well, “A frog! Aunt Esmeralda, my mom would burn you at the stake!”
Esmeralda took the vial, handed Gloria the money, and said, “Comments like that make me wonder why I stayed in New England all these years. Give my best to my sister.”
“OK, see you Thanksgiving.”
Esmeralda stepped in toward Gloria and gave her a big, tight, hug. “Not this year, Honey.” Then she hopped onto her broom, noticing the pain in her hips was getting worse, and flew out the window, heading back home to complete the potion.
She was done by seven, just as the first egg hit her window. God, how she hated mischief night!
The young voices bellowed, rising above the sound of the wind. “WITCH, WITCH, WITCH!”
She looked at the bag of candy she’d bought for tomorrow night and threw it into the blazing fire. “Screw ’em,” she mumbled and started ladling the now golden, sweet smelling brew into midnight blue bottles.
When the last bottle was full and stoppered, she looked at her caldron, then the room that had been her home for two centuries. She sighed, a sigh so deep it reached down through the decades to find the spark of spirit that had kept her here year after year, kept her here long after the coven had vanished, kept her here all alone, the last of her kind.
A tear trickled down her wrinkled face. “It’s time,” she said and wiped her face with a large handkerchief. Snapping her fingers, a piece of parchment appeared on the wooden table.
She started to dictate. “I, Esmeralda, last of the Salem Coven, am weary, not to mention alone. I do not wish to continue on like this anymore. Tonight, I will complete all outstanding tasks, cast last spells, and take my leave of this life. I was waiting for All Hallows Eve, but what’s the point? When it is over, it should end.”
She watched the words she’d spoken appear in bright, blood red letters on the blank sheet. When it had finished, she rolled it up, put it in the caldron, and spoke an incantation.
The caldron vanished.
Looking around one last time, she started to put a protection spell on the old cottage, then thought better of it. “I’m just being silly. If I don’t do this right this time, I will lose my convictions and stay. Again.”
She gathered the blue bottles into her large black bag and left. As she walked away, broom in hand, a flame shot up from the roof. Within seconds, the place she’d called home for more than 200 years was an inferno.
More tears followed. “I love Massachusetts in the autumn,” she moaned as the salty drops dripped off her pointed chin. “I will so miss the seasons of New England.”
Esmeralda turned away from the flames, then got on her broom for the last time. She grimaced at the pains in her legs, her back, and her arms. “Yes, it’s too hard to go on.”
She flew to the coffee shop at the edge of town and waited as woman after woman came in for a blue bottle. They’d all skittered in, one after the other, ashamed to be seen with such a hideous old woman, but all of them in need of their quarterly fix. Esmerelda smiled as the first woman sat down. “Here is the product you ordered,” She said, staring intently at the person across the small table from her.
The woman, a brunette with crow’s feet starting at the corner of her eyes and lines around her mouth, returned the smile. But hers was vacant, and she would not return the stare. Esmerelda watched the woman’s eyes flicker all around the shop, lighting on every object except her face. She knew how uncomfortable she made these women feel, and it made her day. She relished their discomfort. Sure, she could make the product available more often, but she enjoyed when the wrinkles returned to their faces. She loved the desperate need she saw in their eyes before they looked away.
Once, a long time ago, the blue bottles had held wondrous magical potions. She remembered the love potions, the elixirs of revenge, the fertility spells. But now, all the women with dyed hair, plastic faces, and bodies either tight as drums or soft as dough came to her for Bewitching Youth.
And she obliged as always. A sizable deposit to her bank account and the illusion of youth was theirs for a few months.
When the last bottle was gone, Esmeralda took a laptop computer from her bag, and using the café’s WiFi, sent an email. LEAVING TONIGHT. CAULDRON SHOULD HAVE ALREADY ARRIVED. PLEASE UPDATE WEBSITE TO SAY BEWITCHING YOUTH CAN ONLY BE PURCHASED ONLINE FROM NOW ON. DON’T FORGET TO ADD INCREASED SHIPPING AND HANDLING COST.
Esmerelda went into the bathroom, reached into the bag she was carrying, and took out a silver belt and black cardigan sweater. She balled up her cape and tossed it into the trash.
When she left the restroom, her black dress had been transformed into a stylish long shift and sweater set. She touched her hair, and it went from a white rat’s nest to a stylish silver-gray curly cut, and her teeth had magically grown back white and straight.
She walked outside the shop to wait for her cab, her broom left behind. Soon she would be on her way to catching the red-eye to Miami, where she would finally join the other retired members of the coven at their condo.
Back to Issue 18
Back to Issue 18