double double, toil and trouble,
fire burn and s’mores do bubble —
stop this one from speaking to,
from seeing those within this coven.
thrice to thine and thrice to mine
and thrice again to make up nine.
peace! the charm is wound up firm
and set by heat as of an oven.
(In hindsight, we probably should have checked to see if that was a real spell before we said it at midnight stood around a bonfire at the corn maze outside town – I certainly didn’t think to do it after.)
“Dot! Dot, they said they could barely identify what was left!”
Addie’s voice was followed by the rapping tapping of Dot’s knuckles on my front door. “Let’s wait until we talk to Heather before we go freaking out, okay?”
“Hi. Why are we freaking out?” I let them in the (unfortunately thin) door, as Dot and Addie explained in patches how Owen Marston, the ex we had “tried” to keep away from Addie three nights ago out at the maze, had died horribly in his home and apparently also a fire. Addie raided my fridge for a beer. I, Dot explained, was the closest to a witch of the three of us – if I “said it wasn’t our fault, then it probably isn’t, right?” Dot blinked, and I blinked back.
“Why would it be our fault? We don’t even know exactly what happened,” I reasoned – almost doesn’t make a witch, even if I did read tarot cards and made a killer cold-fighting soup. “But he’s not dead because we stood around a bonfire and chanted some silly rhymes I made up two hours beforehand.”
Which made sense to them; Addie relaxed, Dot joined her in swiping a beer from my fridge, and we all relaxed.
Addie wanted me to read for her at my kitchen table after dinner that night, moss-soft edges of the tarot cards I got from Borders muttering to themselves as she pitched her latest idea for a local hotspot eatery and Dot rummaged in the fridge. The moment, I thought, lacked a particular sense of occasion, but given that I learned to read playing cards from the internet before getting a proper deck – and we were all a few drinks in – I called that a nonstarter and tried to shuffle without upsetting the balance of my spindly dining chair.
The reading was pretty good – all big choices before her and guiding influences – but didn’t say anything about success or failure, which I suppose wasn’t a good enough answer; I stacked card on card at her request, trying to clarify until something clicked.
That something was the latch on the front door, but the card for vigilance was still buried somewhere in the deck trying to escape my left palm.
When the little imp looking like a little black cat snuck in from the porch, we were busy poring over the cards. When it cleared its throat, we thought we were hearing the neighbor. When it leapt up onto the table, scattering The Tower one way and Judgement (reversed) to the other, what we did was scream and, if you were Dot, go for the broom. She brandished her chosen weapon as if she wasn’t sure if the imp were a stray to be shooed or a household pest to be swatted with abandon.
The imp only blinked at this. “Dorothy Parker.” It pronounced her name dar-oh-thee, like Aunty Em scolding her niece, and asked again when she didn’t answer. “Dorothy Parker?”
Dot’s teeth clenched. The little imp flicked its tail.
“Right,” it said. “Heather Rutherford.”
I held my breath.
“And Adelaide James?”
Addie didn’t have the same kind of fear, instead grabbing the broom from Dot and walloping the imp solidly over the head a few times before trying to sweep it toward the door. It dug its claws in, hissing and swearing and, finally, snapping its bony little fingers.
We all seemed, very suddenly, to be lifted into the air and pinned bodily to the ceiling.
“Fine,” the imp spat, “deal with it yourselves, see if I care!” And then it vanished, as we all hit the floor.
Three visitors at my door was the last straw, which is probably how we ended up arrested that night. Perhaps I shouldn’t have tried to throw a skillet at what I thought was another imp, since it turned out to be my building manager.
The witch in the middle of the police station was a surprise, though.
“Which one of you was it,” she asked deadpan. “Who killed Owen Marston?” Everyone was frozen around her – clearly we were the only ones seeing what was happening.
Addie and I looked at each other, while Dot stared at a point over the witch’s shoulder, looking slightly sick and fidgeting with her necklace. The gold caught the unpleasant fluorescents and reflected grossly. “Look,” I headed her off, being the one who’d written the little poem to begin with. “I guess it was me. If we hadn’t said all of that, he’d still be alive, wouldn’t he? I wrote it, it’s my fault.”
The witch did not seem convinced. “This is a very serious charge, girls – a young mortal is dead, and someone must answer for that.”
Addie and I both broke into desperate bargaining at the same time.
“I wrote the thing – ”
“I wanted him gone!”
“ – and brought it to the fire and made us read it – ”
“He wouldn’t leave me alone!”
“It was me. I killed him.”
Which shut us up – Dot? Even the witch seemed surprised.
“You? I don’t have any record of you.” A book appeared in the witch’s – the first witch’s – hand, bound unpleasantly in what looked like calfskin. The stitches were uneven like a child’s teeth, and it seemed to radiate with an aura of disapproval, like your grandmother when you picked up too many of the good china plates at once. “Who is your family?”
Dot still looked nauseated, but her fight response seemed to have kicked in, and she arched one perfectly-done eyebrow. “No family. I did it on my own.”
“Your ancestral family, your coven,” the witch clarified, her own eyebrows furrowing.
Dot shook her head. “You don’t get it, it wasn’t a coven thing. I killed him because it was the full moon and I’m a werewolf. They had nothing to do with it.”
The witch’s eyebrows shot batlike up to her hairline. “Well. If that’s all,” she said stiffly, snapping the book shut. “That’s not my problem then. Good evening, ladies.” She turned on her heel and disappeared, just as the imp had.
Addie and I looked at each other. Looked at Dot. Looked back at each other. Back to Dot.
“You’re a werewolf?!”
for a charm of powerful trouble,
like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
darking dusk and growing moon,
stop his steps and keep him mute.
bind him to his own device,
we ask thee once and twice and thrice.
cool it with the wolfsbane’s blood
and then the charm is firm and good.
Leah Tuckwiller is an Appalachian poet and writer. Her favorite monster is the 1941 Wolf Man, and whatever is making all that noise in the woods behind her house.