A boy struggles to keep his new girl friend away from his witch-infested home.
Bren has always been a loner and with good reason. It is hard to have a normal social life when your house is full of witches—three of them in fact. His mother, Miranda, is a gifted weaver of spells, his grandmother a successful fortune teller, and their friend and tenant a black practitioner of voodoo. So it was only after meeting Erika as he worked the lights for a school production of <i>Macbeth</i> that Bren began to wonder how he would ever bring a girl friend home. To make matters worse from his point of view, Erika was playing First Witch in Shakespeare’s terrifying play and loving every minute of it. All of this made for a rather rocky romance full of wild subterfuges and some very low moments. Witches, of course, live to interfere, and when the mischievous three decide to meddle with the opening night of <i>Macbeth</i>, they bring about a more dramatic resolution than any of them could have foreseen.
The sky darkened again as Bren crossed Broadway and walked toward he park. Huge clouds were rising as if from some infernal cauldron in New Jersey, and the last rays of sun crept between them, casting a lurid glow on all that only a few moments ago had basked in the light of a clear September afternoon.
Bren felt his spirits sink with the failing light. He wanted to hurry now--to get home and rid himself of his increasingly unpleasant burden--but his footsteps dragged as he trudged the last block to his house.
Curiously, in view of his upbringing, or perhaps because of it, Bren was not given to brooding or to superstition. Now, however, he felt the ebbing life of the miserable creature inside his shirt as if it were his own. For the first time, he found himself thinking about the actual fate of a frog at the hands of a witch--a witch who also happened to be his mother.
Erika, he reflected bitterly, might prefer people who were out of the ordinary, but the eccentricities of Miranda West went beyond the merely unconventional. He wondered if one could have a lasting relationship with a girl and never bring her home. Many teenagers seemed to be ashamed of their parents and their living quarters, but this notion was foreign to Bren. He had always felt close to his mother and fortunate to live with her in the extraordinary old house. Now it occurred to him that he would do well to invent some dreary setting for his home life--a tiny, cramped apartment in one of the tenements that stood between Broadway and the park. It was an unappealing idea and one which would probably prove difficult to sustain.
The gray stone house looked forbidding in the darkening afternoon. No lights shone from the long, narrow windows; it had an expectant air, as if it waited for some shattering event--a scream, a bolt of lightning, a dark figure hurtling from its topmost floor. Bren was surprised to find his home so suddenly transformed into the set for a low-budget horror movie. "Halloween," he muttered, as he climbed the stairs. "It's being a Halloween house, and this is Halloween weather."
He slammed the front door and headed for his mother's studio, a strangely subdued Shadow slinking at his heels. The stairwell was filled with an eerie glow as light filtered through the stained glass skylight. From above floated Madame Lavatky's scales, making the silence below seem more intense.
"Enough of this," Bren said and started flipping light switches as he went. He unbuttoned his shirt and dropped the frog into the terrarium, where, to his relief, it opened its eyes and limped bravely off to the pool.
The house had seemed empty when he came in, but his grandmother appeared from the shadowy depths of the parlor as he went down the stairs. "So here's the young prince," she cried. "Every light in the house he must have on, but does he pay the electric bill? Not he!"
"I'll get a paper route," Bren said, "and give my all to old Con Ed, but please, Gram, let's have some light. It's such a gruesome afternoon."
Rose stopped with her hand on the light switch. "Got the willies, have you? Me too. Something's brewing today for sure. Get your mother away from that black witch is what I say, or creepy will come to crawly, and what goes bump in the night might come to stay."
Bren was now genuinely alarmed. "They're down there together?" he asked. "Doing things, you mean?"
Rose nodded. "They're down there together," she said, "and if you think they're knitting baby clothes, you're entitled to your opinion."
"I'll take a look," said Bren, resolute now, the man of the house. He was not, in fact, afraid of either his mother or Louise LaReine, having lived with both of them all his life, but he very much disliked the idea of their combining forces. "Shadow, you stay here," he added as he started down the basement stairs. Shadow, in fact, showed no enthusiasm for a merry chase among black chickens. He lay down at the head of the stairs and followed Bren's descent with worried brown eyes, a whimper at the back of his throat, the plume of his tail quiet on the floor.
The door was ajar, and Bren gave it a gentle push. It opened onto a surprisingly large, low-ceilinged room which was painted black and hung with dark purple draperies. At the farthest end a black table stood inside a white triangle painted on the floor. There was a cupboard full of dusty bottles behind the table, and on it a thurible which sent a column of smoke wavering up around a small brass pot suspended by three chains. Here in the cozy glow of a fringed Victorian lamp, Bren saw the two witches. They were not knitting baby booties, it was true, but neither were they summoning dark winds or ghastly spirits of the deep. Miranda and Louise appeared to be cooking and exchanging recipes.
Louise chose a bottle and shook something tiny into the palm of her hand. "Eye of newt," she said. "Can't seem to make anything without old eye of newt."
"I know," Miranda said, "but they're so hard to cut up, and a whole one always seems to be too much."
"Just make a lot and put it on the shelf. This stuff don't spoil, babe. It can't spoil. No way. Not if you put it through the flame and say the words." Louise popped the newt's eye into the pot, and Miranda leaned over to sniff the steam.
"Evil," she said, drawing back. "It smells awful, Louise. Nobody's going to drink that stuff voluntarily."
Louise shook her head. "Miranda, child, how many times I have to explain? First the things of power you put in and make sure they be well charmed up, then the sweet things of field and woods to make it good. Now rhino horn."
"We shouldn't, you know," protested Miranda. "The poor rhinos are almost extinct because of people like us."
Louise put down the jar she was holding with a thump. "You think you charm a man without rhino horn? You just show me how. Go on. Find something." She gestured at the row of bottles. "I truly waiting to be surprised."
"Well, maybe just a pinch," Miranda said. "You're right; there just is no substitute, and after all, this rhino perished long ago. There's no point letting it go to waste. I don't expect to be needing this particular potion again."
Louse snorted. "Better make it strong then," she said, shaking the gray powder into the pot. "You won't hook that fish with any wimpy little pinch of horn."
"It's not me he doesn't like," Miranda explained. "It's everything else." She sniffed again. "Mmmm. Better already. I wonder how this will taste with scotch."
Bren had listened shamelessly from his dark vantage point near the door. Now he felt he had heard enough. He cleared his throat and advanced into the room. "Do you know what time it is?" he said. "Couldn't we think about cooking something a little more nourishing?"
Miranda gave a guilty start. "Oh, Bren, is school over? I completely lost track."
"School has been over for a century," Bren said, "and the house is so gloomy even Gram's got the creeps. Come up and make like a mother for a while, if it's not asking too much."
Miranda turned to her crony. "Louise, dear, can you wind up the charm by yourself? You're so much better at it than I am, and duty calls."
"You better believe I am, babe," Louise said. "I just surprised you trust me with your potion. How you know I won't turn your fish into a goat?"
Louise chuckled at her own humor, and Miranda fixed her with a bright, blue stare. "Oh, I'm not worried about that," she said. "As a certain fish once pointed out, the price of real estate on the West Side has gone much too high in the last few years for anyone to take any chances. But thanks, Lou for all the help and for the rhino horn. I'll pay you back for that."
Miranda blew a kiss to her sister witch and followed Bren up the stairs. When they reached the hall, Bren said, "I got your wretched frog, by the way, which is why I'm late, so if you're fiddling with the weather, you can stop.
"Oh, Bren, that is good news," his mother said. "But I wasn't, you know--fiddling with the weather, as you put it. All of this changing from clouds to sun and back again is someone else's work entirely." Miranda cast a pious glance in the direction of the skylight, then turned to look more closely at Bren. "How long were you down there watching us?" she asked.
"Not long, but long enough," Bren said. "If you think you're going to mix that glop with twelve-year-old whiskey and get an expert like Dad to drink it, you must be crazy. You couldn't fob that stuff off on a Bowery bum."
"Oh dear, I hope you're wrong," Miranda said. "I thought we could invent a new cocktail or something."
"Lots of luck," said Bren. "Just lots and lots of luck, Mom"
The kitchen was nearly dark except for the fire and the light from the refrigerator, into which Rose peered with wrinkled nose. "Leftover brussels sprouts, she said. "Turnips, cabbage, and something that might be last week's spaghetti with clam sauce."
"Steaks in the freezer," Miranda countered. "The kind you can thaw in no time--baby peas and French fried potatoes."
Bren laughed and turned on the lights, suddenly feeling better than he had all day. "Take your choice," he said, "but I'm with Mom. This is definitely a steak and French fries night."
"Food to banish the supernatural?" Miranda asked with a knowing smile. "Well, we can try. Get a potato peeler, Bren, and we'll whip up a hearty, all-American meal."