Spook

Jane Little

"Come on, Spook," said the witch. "Wake up. We musn't be late for the meeting."

But the little black dog, curled up on the hearth, only huddled closer to himself.

"I'm not going." he growled, his eyes pressed tightly shut.

"Not going!" said the witch, who's name was Grimalda. "What kind of nonsense is that?"

She was sleeping her floor as she spoke, and since the dog would not move, she was obliged to make two neat piles on either side of him. Neat but nasty, for the dust of a witch's house is mixed with all manner of unspeakable things that fall from her worktable and kettle. These she gathered carefully into a large bottle marked "Spells - leftover", which she cooked securely and set on a long shelf among hundreds of others containing magical ingredients. This done, Grimalda turned again to the hearth.

"Get up, Spook." She said in a more threatening voice, and gave him a sharp poke with the handle of her broom. Spook jumped to his feet with a faint yelp, and the witch shrieked in delight. Then she leaned her long yellow face down close to his.

"Don't you remember what night of all the year this is, sweetheart?" she demanded.

"My birthday?" faltered Spook in a low voice.

"Your birthday!" cried Grimalda. "Who cares about your birthday? It's Halloween, stupid. Halloween! Have you forgotten what business is afoot for us tonight? What miles we must travel? What mischief we must do before that silly rooster sets off his alarm and the fun is all over for another year?"

She spun around sharply on her heels and slapped a dish of cold bat's wings in front of the little dog. Then she sat down at her worktable to a bubbling bowl of dark-green soup, made from boiled young eels, shredded seaweed, and rotted turtles' eggs, just for herself. Spook sniffed the leathery things in his dish.

"Why don't you keep a cat, like any other witch?" he whimpered. "What kind of life is this for a dog?"

"You know why," answered his mistress, dribbling soup off her pointed chin. "Because cats make me sneeze. That's why. Do you think I wouldn't rather fly to the meeting with an elegant black rascal of a cat on the handle than you, slipping and sliding and quaking all the way and likely to be airsick before we get there?"

"Why don't you go by yourself this time?" suggested Spook, reasonably.

"I can't go to the meeting without a familiar!" cried Grimalda, scandalized. "Every witch has to have a familiar. That's one of the first rules. And you're the only animal, so far, my antisneeze spell works on. Eat your food!"

Spook sighed very deeply and pushed away his untouched plate. He thought his nose felt rather hot. Could he be getting a fever? He wondered hopefully.

But Grimalda leaned down suddenly and snatched up his plate, which she hurled, together with her own, into an empty tub that stood by the hearth. Both dishes broke to pieces instantly upon landing in the tub.

"Wash!" commanded the witch. "And mend." she added, stamping her foot. A gurgle of soapy water began churning in the bottom of the tub, and the pieces of the plate hastily scrambled about in it, trying to fit themselves back together.

As Grimalda readied herself for flight, Spook looked about the bare and blackened walls -- just four of them -- that were his home. The witch had no use for more than one room, and everything in it was given over to the making and storing of spells. Over the wide-open throat of the hearth hung her great black kettle, smoldering ashes banked beneath it to keep the horrible things she brewed forever simmering there.

In Grimalda's house there was nothing whatever for comfort or pleasure. And the light was always dim, for a huge, jagged pine outside shadowed the one window by day, and by night the room was lighted only by the hearth and a single candle, burning on the witch's worktable. This table, with its chair, stood in the center of the room, its top stained red and blue and yellow and black like a bruise. On this, Grimalda ground and mixed her magic powders. Here she studied her moldering books of magic. Here she ate her meals, and here she slept with her head face downward under the high peaked hat she wore.

Spook sighed again and wondered, as he had many times before, if there weren't some other kind of home for him, some other kind of voice than Grimalda's. The thought that there might be was like a secret promise, but since Grimalda never let him free, he had no way of finding out, and try as hard as he would, he could remember nothing before coming to live with the witch.

She planted both feet, in their buckled shoes, and the broom handle before him now.

"Climb on, Spook," she commanded. "Climb aboard, and we're away. We're away!"

At this, her voice rose to a piercing wail, and Spook mounted the broom handle with trembling paws.

"Away!" shrilled the witch again, and the broom handle upended with a sickening lurch, turned abruptly around, and shot through the window.

The wind skirled like bagpipes in his ears, and stars reeled in glittering streamers round Spook's head in the second before he clamped his eyes shut, clinging to the broom handle with short, blunt claws.