Mrs. Emiline Cromwell sat in her rocking chair watching the leaves fall outside her window, her ancient hand stroking a cat. There were no pumpkin window stickers here, or plastic pumpkins glowing on the sill. The lacy curtains were pulled back with heavy velvet swatches and there were doilies under the Tiffany Stained Glass lamp.
Down the street a little girl in a pink fairy costume skipped with a plastic pumpkin heavy with candy. Her brother, younger by at least a year, toddled in his black cat costume beside her. Behind them were unsuspecting parents, the mother sporting a purple and green witch hat.
“What folly!” Mrs. Cromwell said, but she dared not turn away as she watched the children dart up a walk of the house on the corner.
She could remember what childlike bliss felt like, even in her aged body, she remembered the last night she’d shared in the All Hallow’s Eve Party.
She was sixteen, and her father had tasked her with helping to set up the Annual Harvest Ball. It was Emiline who had begged it to be on All Hallows Eve, her father reluctantly had agreed.
The party was held at their home, three stories high and near town center. Nearly half of the town would join the gathering. It had been her friend Patience’s idea to have the haunted house.
Patience’s home was located down the lane from hers and would suit perfectly, as it was aged even then. They had gathered corn stalks from Old Man Delacroix’s farm and had carved jack-o-lanterns. It had been Patience’s wish to call the witches to haunt it. And Emiline was too naive to stop her.
They had taken the carriage out and ridden to the edge of town whereMrs. Martin lived. Patience had said that Mrs. Martin had once cured her daughter of small pox, and had been able to teach a bird to swim. Emiline, certainly not believing stories about witches, but knowing that Mrs. Martin had eight children and was likely to assist them with the haunted house, witch or no.
Mrs. Martin ushered them into the kitchen and was willing to help the two girls with the business of haunting Patience’s home. Unfortunately the girls didn’t know how she was helping. She began working on a spell immediately. She filled a huge cauldron with water and hung it over the fire, sprinkling herbs into the water.
“Who would you sacrifice for such a thing?” Mrs. Martin asked, stirring the pot.
Patience laughed, “My brother Edgar! Let him be a sacrifice for the haunting!”
Emiline scowled, “Oh, let it be a pig or my father’s prized steed or something not so dire!”
“So it is done! On All Hallow’s Eve a haunting shall commence, and on every All Hallow’s Eve thereafter, as long as a suitable sacrifice is made!” Patience laughed and clapped her hands. They had left giggling.
The Harvest Ball had been magnificent, full of gaiety and bobbing for apples. It wasn’t until after the ball when they started through the haunted house that the accident happened. Edgar fell on the bottom step and cracked his skull, he died within the night.
Emiline felt waves of guilt, even now, sitting in her rocking chair staring out the window at the ancient house of her childhood friend, watching as the little fairy and the little cat collected their candy and turned back to the street.
Her father’s steed was dead the next morning as was a pig, and neither of them had any apparent reason for their death. Emiline had thought it suspicious, but was too logical to believe in witchcraft.
Patience fearing she had caused the death of her brother, was silent and withdrawn. Emiline had begged her friend not to feel guilt for it. It was the very next year that Prudence, Patience’s elder sister died from small pox on All Hallow’s Eve Night. The year after her mother died in child birth, again on that tell-tale night. The babe the year after. It was then that the first of the accusations of witchcraft came forth. But even accused and found guilty and required to pay one hundred pounds, the spell was not done. All Patience’s sisters and brothers and finally her father passed on All Hallow’s Eve Night.
Patience became a recluse. Twenty three years later, Mrs. Martin was found guilty and hung for witchcraft in the infamous trials, Emiline had walked quietly up the steps of the aged house that belonged solely to her once dear-friend, Patience. She knocked at the door, looking around at the ill-kept land.
“Go away, I see no one!” Her friend’s voice, cracked and dry from lack of use responded from the other side of the door.
“It is Emiline, Patience, please let me in, I bear good news.”
Slowly the door had opened and there stood her once beloved friend, still sixteen, and perfect. No lines of age marred her face, only pain, and red rimmed eyes from the tears continually lost.
“It is nearing dusk, Emie,” a small voice floated behind her.
“So it is Patience, my dear,” Emiline said as she worked her ancient body out of the rocker. Patience stood, still young, still perfect, save for her mind, which had aged long ago beyond reckoning, she held no reason whatsoever in its depths any more, and it was Emiline’s duty alone to ensure that none died on their property that night.
The old woman silently walked from the window turning off every light, and peeking out the windows at the wrought iron gate. The ivy covered it carefully and the chains that were fastened at each gate had been checked and rechecked that morning. Every year, though, someone got in. Every year someone died. Every year the girls prayed it would be them, and every year it wasn’t. And that is how it has been for 341 years, and perhaps how it will be for the next 341.