“Mrs. Beaver’s usually very generous. Let’s try her house!” Maddie rang the doorbell, before her sister Daisy had a chance to run up the stairs in her heavy pumpkin outfit.
“Here’s hoping she won’t give us sugar mice or pink fluffy bears.” Maddie’s friend Olivia said with a disgruntled look into her trick-or-treat bucket. Olivia’s sister Ellie came panting up the garden path.
“I hate this costume! My wings keep getting caught on fence posts.” Ellie rearranged her dishevelled costume and dislodged a twig from her gauze wing.
“Why don’t you fly over them, Battie? You insisted on wearing that costume, so stop whining.“ Olivia disentangled her green wig from Mrs. Beaver’s hedge. “Try being a banshee for a day. Every time I want to have a drink, my nose falls off.”
Inside the house they could hear somebody shuffling down the stairs. The hall light came on and the door opened. Mrs. Beaver stood in the door; she was wearing her pink dressing gown, night cap and slippers.
“Oh, I’d forgotten about Halloween. Don’t you girls look lovely? Wait, I’ll get you some apples from the kitchen. Will apples be alright?” Mrs. Beaver gnawed her lip and scratched her grey head. “There are some left over chocolate Easter Bunnies…” she added with a frown.
Maddie groaned. Why couldn’t people join into the spirit of Halloween? Why couldn’t Mrs. Beaver wear monster feet or splash some fake blood over her mangy old dressing gown? At the last house their new neighbours hadn’t even heard of Halloween and they had no idea why children dressed up as devils, banshees, bats and pumpkins were demanding sweets at their front door.
“I blame the council’s new building initiative. They let just about any one build houses on our estate. Personally, I feel only people who love Halloween should be allowed to live here.” Maddie sighed.
They turned into United Nations Drive and visited a some new houses, but found to their disgust that their buckets filled up with even more pink sugar mice, heart-shaped lollipops and toffee apples. Not a liquorice spider in sight, not a single adult who’d decorated their house with pumpkins or even skeletons hanging from the porch.
“Let’s go home. The only scary bits this afternoon were Mr. Spit’s false teeth and Mrs. Smith’s stinky breath.” Olivia eyed the sky. “Looks like it’s going to rain soon. I promised Mum we wouldn’t stay out after dark.”
“Agreed. We’ll just finish off with that old house on the corner. Dad told me there’s a new tenant living there.” Maddie led the way to their last trick or treat destination. “Hum, Lucifer Mews…rather apt, don’t you think?” She giggled when she caught her reflection in a car window. She cast a fine figure as a devil, she thought.
They walked up the path to no. 666 Lucifer Mews. In the darkness Ellie fell over a bushel of dry grass and grazed her knee. Olivia’s wig got caught on a branch and was lifted off her head. They had to jump up to detach it from the oak, which seemed reluctant to return the hair to its rightful owner. Nobody seemed to have tended the front garden for a long time. Shrubs were blocking the view into the front windows; the house seemed uninhabited. The flowerbeds were covered in weeds and the lawn hadn’t been mowed since the Great Witch Finder General had last sent out his men to gather fire wood.
They reached the front door, a Victorian monstrosity covered in strange carvings. A cast iron knocker shaped like an owl’s head peered at them with polished brass eyes. Maddie lifted the heavy instrument and let its sharp beak fall onto the oak panel beneath. The thunderous noise coming from the knocker made them all jump.
“Blimey! That knocker’s loud enough to wake up people living half way across the county!” Maddie’s ears were ringing.
At first nobody seemed to be at home but then they heard somebody in the hallway approaching the door.
“Yeeeeees?” The old woman who’d opened the door peered into the darkness.
“Trick or treat?” Maddie’s voice wobbled slightly. The new tenant of Lucifer Mews seemed to look straight through them.
“Children? Do I smell children?” The woman bent her neck this way and that, sniffed into their general direction and held up her candle to get a better look.
“We’ve come to ask for sweets…” Daisy pushed her way through to get a better look at the old woman.
The new tenant of Lucifer Mews wore a strange felt hat with an eagle’s feather sticking out at a rakish angle. Long, grey hair flowed out from under the hat, framing a haggard face covered in wrinkles. Her eyes, which must have been brown but in the flickering candle light looked rather yellow, swivelled from left to right. She raised one hand and pointed at one of Maddie’s horns.
“Erm…Madame…it’s Halloween…this pumpkin is my sister Daisy, the banshee is my friend Olivia and the bat is her sister Ellie. I’m Maddie. Halloween’s my favourite day of the year. Today’s my birthday, you see.” Maddie twirled her tail between her hands by way of an introduction.
“Halloween, of course it is! Your birthday you say…what a coincidence, I’ve just baked a cake! You must come and taste my special recipe.” The woman smiled a toothsome grin and opened the door wide to let them in.
They filed past her, taking in her long, shabby dress and worn, pointy shoes. Daisy sneezed as they crossed the dark, dusty hallway and entered what appeared to be the living room at the rear of the house.
“My name’s Hekate Wobblebottom. Excuse the mess, haven’t lived here long. Still unpacking, you know. Today’s your birthday, you say? What a fortunate coincidence, just when I was looking for…erm…I mean, how fortunate for you to have your birthday on such a fine time of the year.” She corrected herself quickly and shoved an old sock under a sofa cushion.
She bid them sit down on a large velvet sofa and disappeared through a door on the right. A candelabra’s dismal light struggled to brighten the living room. They could make out some old portraits on the walls; there were faded curtains and cobwebs everywhere. Before they had a chance to look around further, Hekate returned with a tray carrying a large cake, four plates and four steaming mugs.
“Yum, that smells like hot chocolate!” Daisy perched on the edge of the sofa, her pumpkin costume made it rather difficult to sit down properly.
“Yes my fat little pumpkin, there’s nothing like hot chocolate with birthday cake, that’s for sure.” Hekate set down the tray and handed out the plates and mugs.
“This is the most gorgeous cake I’ve ever seen!” Maddie marvelled at the cake’s decoration, a sugary web so delicately drawn as if a black widow spider had been in charge of the icing. Nine black candles circled the cake’s edge. “How do you make it, I’m sure Mum would love to know. It smells wonderful!”
“Oh, it’s just my own little secret. As my birthday present to you, I’m willing to share my recipe. Why don’t you girls call over your parents, there’s plenty of cake to go round.” Hekate smiled and handed Maddie a mobile phone.
They sipped their hot chocolate until their mothers had arrived. Hekate fetched two more plates and mugs, bidding the parents to take a seat.
“Don’t forget to make a wish, young devil. Making a wish is the best thing about a birthday cake, don’t you think?” Hekate handed her a silver cake knife. The handle was shaped like a snake. Hekate shut her eyes and folded her arms over her flat bosoms. “Now cut the cake!” She commanded.
Maddie closed her eyes and thought of what she liked most in the world. “I wished every day was Halloween and we’d never have to take our lovely costumes off.” She concentrated on her wish and blew as hard as she could. The nine candles went out with a puff and a hiss.
Maddie could feel herself being lifted up into the air, just a couple of inches with her toes tingling and her devil’s tail twitching. Since this couldn’t really be happening to her, she dismissed it and stuck the cake knife into the cake instead.
“That’s it, my little devil. A large slice for each of my lovely guests, don’t stand on ceremony, do take second helpings.” Hekate rubbed her hands in delight. Maddie heaped cake on everyone’s plate.
They ate and ate and ate until all the cake was gone. Maddie felt rather sweaty after all that steaming hot chocolate and food. She tried to unbutton the front of her red suit, but her fingers kept sliding off the buttons. Next to her on the sofa Daisy started getting larger and larger until the back of her costume suddenly erupted and several small pumpkins popped out.
The pumpkins rolled all over the floor and every few minutes a few more orange missiles shot out of Daisy with a loud POP. She started to cry and Ellie tried to comfort her friend. She was about to put her arm around Daisy, when her wings started flapping on their own accord and she was lifted up into the air, where she hovered above the velvet sofa. Fur started to grow out of her nostrils and sprouted all over her face. She was turning into a real bat!
Olivia tried to pull her little sister down to the floor but found that her own hands had turned into claws with razor sharp talons. She started to shriek and couldn’t stop. Her wailing filled the room. Maddie clamped her hands over her ears to drown out the noise.
Hekate cackled and danced around the room. Maddie called out for both mothers to help but the women couldn’t move. A large spider had woven a net around them and they were pinned to the velvet sofa like two large cocoons. Tighter and tighter the spider spun her thread around them, until only their noses peered out from the web.
“Be careful what you wish for, little devil! Halloween’s my favourite day and my birthday, too. Oh, what a party I shall have, it’ll be the finest feast Halloween has ever seen. For my starter I shall have pumpkin soup; for my main course I shall enjoy roast parents with pumpkin mash and lots of gravy. For my dessert I shall have bat baked in a pie. No finer food could be found anywhere! Sing banshee, sing and let’s be merry.”
Hekate grabbed Olivia and danced a polka around the room. The witch’s skirts and pointy shoes flew through the air as she danced round and round the black velvet sofa. When the room was beginning to fill up with pumpkins, Hekate opened another door and shooed the pumpkins out of the room. Daisy’s face was tear-stained, pumpkins continued to explode from her bottom. Ellie was now covered in fur and perched on top of a wardrobe. Olivia was no longer wearing a wig but her own hair had turned green with worms wriggling out of it.
It took Maddie a moment of practice before she could balance on the hooves which had replaced her feet. She found she could steady herself with the aid of her tail. Looking for the cake knife, she wondered if she’d be brave and strong enough to kill the witch. However, when she found the cake knife the handle turned into a snake and tried to bite her. What was she to do? Think, Maddie, think!
“So many fine pumpkins…I shall start a business selling soup. Your sister Daisy I’ll lock up in my basement, she’ll be supplying me with stock for years to come. Ah, but for you my little devil, I have something even better in store. Devil’s horn, devil’s tail, what a price you’ll fetch on the black magic market! How my sisters will snarl and hiss with envy. I’ll be rich!” Hekate pulled a wand from her skirt pocket and directed it towards the basement door.
“Wait, not so hasty, dear Mrs. Wobblebottom. Did you say you wanted the very finest of feasts for Halloween?” Maddie tripped with uncertain steps across the room, her tail keeping her balance as she went.
“Of course I want the finest meal…it’s my very own birthday wish!” Hekate raised her wand. “Beelzebub and Lucifer, mandrake, frog spawn and spider’s net. Let’s get the party started!”
The basement door sprung open and Daisy sailed through the room, rolling down the steps all the way into the basement. A small army of pumpkins followed her. The door shut with a bang. A lusty fire sprang up in the grate; a spit roast started to turn above a cauldron. From the kitchen a bowl, a rolling pin and a large pie dish arrived through the air and settled on the table in the living room. Ellie whimpered and rubbed her eyes with her paws. Hekate directed her wand at the mothers.
“Wait Hekate, don’t you see, our mothers are far too old…and quite stringy. If this were my birthday party…dash it…THIS IS MY BIRTHDAY PARTY! I’d want the finest meat, tender and falling off the bone. Roast beef, the most splendid Aberdeen Angus with Yorkshire pudding and roast parsnips and…if you must, pumpkin soup to start. As for my pudding, I’d have a sweet apple crumble of course! You know nothing about good home cooking, you old witch.” Maddie took the rolling pin and held it under Hekate’s nose. “See if I cannot prepare you a better meal.”
“Aw, the little devil wants to challenge me? Very well, cook me a meal with your Yorkshire Angus and your Aberdeen crumble. If I like your meal better, I’ll let all of you go. But if I don’t like it…what will you offer me for all your miserable lives in return?”
Maddie thought of last Christmas and the disappointing stocking she had received from Spain. “I’ll give you my Granddad, there’s plenty of meat on him!”
Not believing for one moment the witch would stick to the bargain, Maddie knew she had to be as cunning as a fox. The witch had tried to trick her – what use would their freedom be, if they were going to be trapped in their Halloween costumes for all eternity?
Olivia kept wailing and Ellie kept flapping her wings; the mothers continued their struggle to break their cocoons and Daisy produced next year’s pumpkin harvest, but poor Maddie peeled parsnips, rubbed oil on the sirloin and mashed roast pumpkin into soup. She cooked and she cooked, steam filled the kitchen, steam pervaded the living room, smoke billowed from the chimney and delicious cooking smells wafted down Lucifer Mews. Whilst she cooked, she sang her favourite songs from her school choir’s rehearsal list. Finally, the meal was complete. Maddie laid the table for one and ladled out the pumpkin soup. Hekate tucked in.
“Not bad this soup. What’s in it…kind of hot and peppery?” The witch slurped a second spoon full.
“It’s my own little secret recipe. When you’ve finished the meal, we can swap. I’ll tell you my ingredients and you’ll tell me yours.” Maddie heaped roast beef and gravy on Hekate’s plate.
“So you’re after my cake recipe, are you? Never shall you have it, never!” Hekate chomped through the beef. “This Yorkshire crumble is rather nice. Hand me one more.”
Maddie put a second, a third and a fourth helping on Hekate’s plate. The witch ate and ate, Maddie sang and sang. Olivia joined in and they serenaded the witch. When all the roast beef had gone, the last drop of gravy had been licked off the plate and the final Yorkshire pudding had disappeared down the witch’s throat, Maddie took the crumble out of the oven.
“I guess I’ve got a bit of room for a few tiny apples.” Hekate rubbed her bulging stomach and belched.
More and more crumble made it down the witch’s hatch and Maddie sung herself horse. Finally, the witch fell asleep and snored so loud she drowned out even Olivia’s wail.
Maddie darted to the kitchen and pulled open cupboard doors and drawers, looking for the secret cake recipe. She called Ellie for help who fluttered by and surveyed the top of every cupboard and wardrobe in the house. Finally, Ellie discovered what they had been looking for.
“Home Cooking with G. Ramsey Beelzebub, the cook book for the organic witch.” Maddie read on the title page. She opened the index and found the page for birthday cake.
“Oh dear, one pound of flour, one pound of grated pumpkin, half a pound of sugar…a pinch of devil’s horn, a teaspoon of devil’s tail, a tablespoon full of bat’s fur, the nail clippings of a banshee and the tears from a mother’s handkerchief, freshly squeezed…I’ll be here baking this thing until dawn!” Maddie mumbled and started to lay out the ingredients.
She was very tired but there was nothing for it, she had to bake the cake. Once they all ate a slice, the spell would be broken. Ellie kept an eye on the witch, singing a sea shanty together with Olivia to keep their enemy asleep.
When the cake was done, Maddie gave a piece to everyone except for the sleeping witch. The spell was broken and they were their normal selves once more. Their mothers peeled the spider’s web back and emerged from their cocoons. They were just tip-toeing through the hallway when Hekate woke up.
“Not so fast, little devil! I concede, your meal was delicious and I’ll let you go, but you’ve stolen my cake recipe and I want compensation. What about that Granddad of yours, is he still for the taking?”
“We’ll send him through the post!” Maddie yelled and they ran as fast as they could out of the front door and down the path. They didn’t stop until they had reached the front of Maddie’s house.
“Phew, I don’t want to see another pumpkin for as long as I live.” Daisy panted.
“Oh I don’t know…now that I’ve got the secret recipe…Mum could start a business with you as our very own pumpkin factory. There’s always next year’s Halloween.” Maddie grinned and fell asleep leaning against their front door.