It hangs, large and imposing, overseeing the crops and fields below. In the distance, a demented cackle echoes across the twilight, flitting over the gently rolling hills on the wings of a raven. See how it circles; upwards, ever upwards, and outwards, too, but never down. Feel the chill tiptoe down your spine on toes of ice, subtly belying the pleasant atmospheric conditions and almost making you wonder if winter has come early.
It hasn’t. It is autumn, my favorite time of year. A time of candy and mysteries, preparations and celebrations, witches and family, pumpkins and poltergeists, and most of all, the bizarre juxtaposition of the harvest and the looming winter. This is autumn, and the harvest moon looms, some would say wickedly, and yet others would say like a mother, over the pageant of the season.
And so we come full circle again to the demented cackle we had heard previously, and to the point of the story wherein we meet our protagonist, namely me. I have always had a penchant for having bizarre things happen to me. It’s a talent really, but not the sort you could use to impress your schoolmates in a talent show or something. I can see it now…
“Behold!” I would say to the crowd, who would appear as amorphous blobs from my vantage point of the stage, “and tremble, as bizarre things happen to me” The crowd would grow silent, and there we would wait as the excruciating minutes clawed by, until at last Dr. Amico, the assistant principle, would quietly shoo me offstage.
No, this talent can not be demonstrated with any sort of predictability, but anyone who has been around me for a long enough time understands the bizarre coincidences and terrifying persons that assail me weekly.
And so it seems less odd, even par for the course, that on that cool autumn evening I found myself in the clutches of three witches, as wicked as they were warty, and as stinky as they were ancient. I was floating in a pot, if memory serves, over a small campfire that one of the witches, let’s call her Hild, was desperately trying to light. Hild was a tall and slender creature with a hooked nose one could use to open beer bottles, or perhaps even un-cork wine. The possibilities were endless.
“Poo and fiddlesticks!” she swore, wasting yet another match that had singed her fingers. She dropped it to the forest floor.
“You might want to be careful with that.” I said. She stared at me quizzically, and I nodded my head toward the match that was smoldering contentedly on the forest floor. ”That’s how forest fires get started.”
“What do you care, human?” She hissed back at me, spittle flying from her crooked teeth, “You’ll be cooked soon anyway.”
“Well,” I continued, repositioning myself so I could hang on the side of the pot. It was a very big pot. ”I wouldn’t want your ladies’ evening to be ruined by an inattention to fire prevention” I chuckled at my little rhyme, and then continued “furthermore, I would be out of the frying pan and into the fire,” I paused and thought for a moment, “…or out of the pot and into the forest fire, as it were. I’ve always held that it would be better to be cooked alive than burned alive. You ladies struck me as being excellent cooks, and I doubt you’ll let me burn during your meal preparation, so it would really be a shame if I was roasted by an uncaring forest fire, you see.”
The witch narrowed her eyes and stomped viciously on the match. It was about that time, at least I think it was, when her sisters returned. One of them, let’s call her Froggy, was a squat and rotund creature, with a palled yellow tone to her skin that appeared absolutely horrific in the moonlight. She must have had a gastro intestinal issue of some sort, the poor dear, for she would sporadically emit tremendous burps, somewhat like a horrific bull frog’s croak, that would echoe across the grove where I was currently stewing. It would set off all the other amphibians in the area, a chorus of grunts and croaks that would have been amusing if it wasn’t so damn loud.
The last witch, let’s call her Bella, was dubbed the “beautiful one” by her sisters, though in truth she would have been dubbed “the lest ugly one” by almost anyone else. She was of average height, neither short nor tall, thin nor fat, and had the long, flowing silver hair of a Targaryen. It was undoubtably her best feature, and she knew it, and kept her hair in a near immaculate condition.
Behind the two witches stalked their scarecrow, a fearful construct of straw and wood, with a leering pumpkin head and burlap clothes. A faint fire burned in it’s eyes, which, besides locomotion, was the only indication that it was alive.
I have to admit I was afraid of this golem, despite the fact that I am not a crow. Perhaps it would be better suited if it were called a “scare-human,” or maybe even a “scare-everything.” The creatures of the forest hated the thing, and would attack it on sight, more out of fear than anything else, so that it’s once picturesque pumpkin head was now peppered with the marks of a thousand tiny teeth.
It was hauling a bundle of kindling in it’s straw arms, which it set under my pot.
“Well, here you go, Hild”, spat Froggy, after emitting yet another belch. Dear god she was foul. ”Some fresh kindling for ickle baby, since you can’t manage to light a simple camp fire.”
“She’s got a point Hild,” I chimed in, happily, “could we get a move on here? This water’s really cold. I’m afraid i might catch pneumonia, or maybe even SARS. Hey…” I turned to Bella, “Do people even get SARS anymore?” Bella looked at me confusedly, and then shrugged. ”Pfft, some witch you are.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Bella said, defensive. The thrust an accusatory finger at me and stalked towards my pot. ”I’ll have you know, young man, that I have been witching since before you were born-”
“And yet you don’t even know if people get SARS anymore. I thought witches knew all about that sort of thing. All the good ones, at least.” Bella’s mouth opened and closed, searching for something to say. Froggy pushed in front of here and glared at me.
“Witches don’t know that sort of thing. Doctors know about diseases. Witches know about spells and magic and dancing naked in the moonlight.” I raised an accusatory eyebrow and looked from the hideous Froggy to the marginally more attractive Bella to the Pelican like Hild. The witches became incredibly uncomfortable.
“Well,” I stated haughtily, “I certainly hope we’ll be having none of that tonight” The witches were dumbstruck, and took a moment to gain their composure. Bella was the first to rally and gave me her best impression of a wicked smile.
“You probably wont be so loquacious when your boiling in the pot… to death! Hild, light the fire!” Hild cackled wickedly and lit another match and tossed it onto the kindling, which briefly hissed and smoked and then sputtered out. I let go of the pot and began to float and spin in lazy circles.
“Why don’t you just light it with magic?” I asked. The witches all shuffled their feet uncomfortably. Bella coughed quietly into her hand.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I chided, rolling my eyes. ”You can’t do magic, can you?”
“Well, that’s why we’re cooking you!”
“We have to!”
“It’s a sacrifice to mother earth!”
“Then she will grant us powers and potent spells!”
“Puh-LEASE.” I contemptuously said as I floated back over to the side of the pot. ”If I knew this was going to be so ‘amateur hour,’ I would have just stayed at home and cooked me myself” The witches were flabbergasted. The night was not going as they had originally planned
“Hey man.” Hild finally said. ”Who do you think you are? Talkin’ all this shit to us, acting so blasé. What’s your deal?”
“This is nothing.” I said, climbing out of the pot. ”Nothing. One time, I had to fight the anthropomorphic personification of the GRE in a nightmare world. I think I can manage a few tyro witches.”
“Hey… stop!” Froggy weakly protested.
“Or what? You’ll bore me to death?” I mocked, putting on my shirt. ”I remember when there used to be proper witches. Menacing witches. Those were the days. Now all we get are a bunch of try hards.” I finished putting on my clothes and walked up to the witches, who were looking a little hurt. ”I think I’ll stick to wolfmen, or maybe vampires for the rest of fall. Come back and kidnap me when you’ve had some experience…” The witches stared at me as I walked away, silhouetted by the gigantic harvest moon.
“You can’t just go!” Bella pleaded. ”Our…um…oh! Our scarecrow will stop you!” I stopped and turned around to face them.
“There! Much better! But you should have said that earlier, when I was just getting out of the pot. Better yet, you should have ordered him to guard me and make sure I didn’t escape. Then you could have gone and had a secret meeting while I had the chance to try and convince to scarecrow to let me go, only to find out how truly lifeless and unfeeling it really is!” The witches were amazed. I continued. ”Then I would have truly been scared. Plus, you could have used that time to go down to a store and buy a lighter or something. That would have solved your fire problem. With a little showmanship, you could have made me think that you were , oh I dunno, summoning the fire from the depths of hell or something, and I would have been really scared. I would have never dreamed of getting out of the pot at that point.”
Hild and Bella were staring at me, mouths agape. Froggy was hurridly taking notes.
“Okay,” Hild said slowly, “what about if we threw in an ol’ “and you better not leave… or we’ll curse you!” or something?”
“Yeah, that’d be a nice touch, but I only think it’d work after you demonstrated that you actually are able to curse people, or at least do magic, and only after your scarecrow had menaced me for a bit. Then it’d be plausible to think that you could do curses, though you in fact can’t. Any more questions?” Froggy raised her hand. ”Yes… Froggy is it?”
“Yes Mr. Brock. I was just wondering if maybe having some sort of props would help in the beginning. You know, like a vat of boiling blood, or some candles and such.”
“I should say so! But we can do better than that, can’t we? Your goal is to engage the audience, and be really compelling villains. Right now you’re just sort of one dimensional stock characters. You know, “evil witches with scarecrow monster”. We need to give you some depth. Here’s an idea, what if one of you had a husband-”
“I do!” Bella excitedly interrupted.
“That’s great Bella, but please don’t interupt. Let’s say Bella brought her husband along, and he sort of helps out around the place, as like a slave or something, but you demonstrate that Bella actually cares deeply for him. This will give her character some depth, and possibly open a door for me, the protagonist, to maybe kidnap the husband and threaten to kill him or something unless you let me go.”
“Or you could try to convince him to help you!” Hild added, “He’s a very nice man.”
“Yeah, that’s good, that’s good, but I’ve already asked the scarecrow to help me, haven’t I? Hypothetically, I mean. It would work really well if you all went away, and I had some alone time with…”
“Peter, yeah great, some alone time with Peter, and I was about to convince him, and then you guys came back, and saw what I was doing. Hild, you could get really mad and be like “Damn it Bella I told you not to bring him along!” and then hit him or something. Then Bella will be kind of upset at you, which is another weakness I can exploit. You can then order the scarecrow to guard me and I can learn about it’s evilness!”
The witches applauded. I took a small bow, with a flourish of my hand.
“So, do you wanna try it again from the top?” Bella asked, like an excited 12 year old kid. I glanced at my watch. 2 A.M.
“Sorry gals, but I gotta run.” They were disappointed, but they had a look of awe on their faces that made me feel all warm inside, as if I had drunk a whole jug of hard cider.
“Who are you?” They asked.
“Me?” I said, dusting my fingers off on my shirt in what I thought was a very nonchalant manner. ”I’m just a film student.”
A faint breeze rustled the browning leaves of the trees as I made my exit. It carried on it’s gusts hints of pumpkin spice, ciders and candy; an everlasting promise of what is to come. Of what’s always to come with autumn.
As I walked down the hill, dry leaves crackling beneath my feet, I pulled my collar up tighter around my neck and smiled. This is why I love autumn. Its a time of magic and tradition, a time when the druids of old felt the spirit world connect with the material one, and when the wild hunt races madly through the woods. It’s Halloween and thanksgiving, it’s horror films and sit com specials. It’s football. It’s a harvest moon, orange as a pumpkin, baffling and grand, hanging austerely over the spectacle of change; the pageant of the seasons.