I’m beyond thrilled to have Syd back and saving the Universe again. As a special gift to you, I’m sharing some shorts I created over the next few months, both here in written form and on Youtube as audios I’m recording for your listening pleasure.
You can find my first attempt at this here:
And have a read below if you prefer the written version:
A (Not) Very Neighborly ChristWitchmas
A Hayle Universe Short
Copyright © Patti Larsen 2014
Things turned ugly the moment we moved in.
I’m not sure what it was about our new neighbor that drove my mother nuts. After all, we’d lived in any number towns over the years, when coven life forced us to relocate at the drop of a badly timed spell or two. But no one set my mother off like Mary Kirkpatrick.
“Miriam,” I heard Erica, Mom’s coven second and best friend, say our very first morning as she joined us in our new driveway. “Look, how friendly.” They waved back to the woman hustling her way across the street, everything about her screaming prim and proper housewife. The woman huffed to a stop in front of us, green eyes scanning Mom like a fast-paced Xerox before she pasted on a wide smile.
“Oh, how lovely,” she said in a simpering voice. “New across the streeters.” She grabbed Mom’s hand and began to shake it while I watched my mother’s face tighten under her smile. “So happy to have you in our close little community.” She winked at Mom. “Very close.”
Could be a problem. Especially considering the entire coven moved with us, almost a hundred people. No way we’d go unnoticed. I suppressed a sigh and promised myself not to get too comfortable.
Not like I ever really did.
“Mary Kirkpatrick,” the woman gushed.
“Miriam Hayle.” Was that an edge to Mom’s voice? She’d dealt with worse. What was her problem? “My daughter, Sydlynn.” I offered a half-hearted finger flicker.
“Erica Plower.” I had to give her credit. Erica recognized the same fuse in Mom and tried to guide the neighbor away, but Mary seemed fixated. My mother was striking, to say the least—tall, black hair hanging down her back in shining curls, perfect porcelain skin and eyes so blue they could rival the sky. Not that Mrs. Kirkpatrick wasn’t pretty, but Mom was a knockout.
There were times I was jealous of her myself.
From that moment on, the mere mention of Mary Kirkpatrick’s name roused a teeth-grinding, vein popping, eye narrowing response in Mom.
It was Halloween, this one memorable mostly because of Mrs. Kirkpatrick and her house. It was one of those classic styles, three stories all in pale yellow with gingerbread trim and a perfect lawn. But it wasn’t her house as such catching the notice of everyone in town, but how she decorated it.
The entire place was decked, from the cutesy spiders dancing from each peak to the impressive reenactment of the witch scene from MacBeth on the front lawn to the glaring shades of yellow and black painted in alternating stripes down the length of the driveway. The night of the big holiday, hers was the busiest house in town, the sound of creepy music and cackling a perfect counter-point to the decorative vision that was the Kirkpatrick residence.
Despite the fact our coven didn’t celebrate Halloween per se, Mom was still okay with my little sister Meira and I going out trick-or-treating. Besides, it was the one day of the year my sister was able to go outside without disguising her red skin and cute little black horns, or the fact her eyes glowed demon amber, a byproduct of our father’s heritage I was thankfully spared.
As I donned my requisite witch costume, trying not to feel too obvious and embarrassed by it, Mom banged on my door.
“Hurry up,” she said. “Your sister and I are waiting.”
Hmm. Since when did Mom go out for Halloween?
Since she wanted to check out Mrs. Kirkpatrick, of course. A giant knot formed in my stomach as we crossed the street and up the drive to the entry. The moment the door swung open to our knock, I knew trouble was only a matter of time.
Mrs. Kirkpatrick was dressed as a witch. Not just any witch. A full-blown, hat and robe, wart on her fake nose witch. Mom’s power clenched. I felt it along our connection.
Correction. Every single member of our coven felt it along the connection as the family magic simmered in answer to her anger.
“Hello, my pretties.” Mary did a fair imitation of a cackle, I’d give her that. I’m not sure if Mrs. Kirkpatrick knew Mom didn’t like her or if she didn’t care, but she happily deposited two full sized candy bars, two cans of soda and two real-sized bags of chips into our open pillow cases.
“There you are, pretties,” she said before her eyes met Mom’s.
I may not have been sure before, but I was then. Mary Kirkpatrick knew exactly what Mom thought of her.
And the feeling was mutual.
I hoped the dual animosity would just go away. When Mom led us stomping home, slamming the front door behind her, I prayed she would just stay away from the neighbors like she always did and we could at least have a few months of peace.
Things settled down a little for the next several weeks or so, and I was beginning to think I overreacted. Mom went about her coven leader stuff while the rest of the family settled. I almost had myself convinced we’d be staying a while when Thanksgiving rolled around.
It was as if Mary Kirkpatrick had an illness. The moment the holiday arrived she was outside, ordering her husband around. I caught Mom glaring across the street as the Kirkpatrick home transformed from its normal perfectness to a winter wonderland extraordinaire.
I’d never seen such Christmas décor in my entire life. If I thought the MacBeth scene was spectacular, it paled next to the skating children on the fake pond of plastic over a real puddle of water so it looked like ice, the layers upon layers of lights and garlands and candy canes and ribbon festooning the house, the yard, the driveway and spilling out onto the street in one giant thematic Happy Holidays not a soul for miles around could miss.
There were times I had to drag Mom from the window before she did something truly unfortunate to the Kirkpatricks. It didn’t help Gram found the entire process fascinating. My damaged grandmother, the victim of an enemy coven attack years ago, didn’t exactly have control of all of her marbles. She loved to look out at the evolution of Christmas going on across the street and cackle to herself as though it was the funniest thing she’d ever seen.
Imagine my nervousness when I arrived home from school two weeks before Christmas to find Mom in the front yard looking up at our house.
“Mom.” I touched her arm just as she turned toward me with burning need in her eyes.
“Syd,” she said, voice vibrating, “Come.”
If Mary Kirkpatrick was ill, Mom was possessed. In one trip she cleaned out every decoration left in the entire county.
She waited to act on her new treasures until my Uncle Frank woke up for the night, his undead girlfriend Sunny at his side, emerging from their matching cupboards as the sun went down.
“You’re not busy tonight, are you?” Mom grasped my handsome uncle’s arm, not even allowing him a moment to slurp down a bag of blood before she had him out on the lawn, talking fast in his ear while he grinned wider and wider before laughing out loud.
“You want to what?”
Mom was so mad he didn’t laugh again. In fact, when she was done hissing at him he looked really pale. A big leap for a vampire.
For the next three nights, Mom cracked a whip of her own as she ordered Uncle Frank and a handful of other coven men around. I’m positive she used magic. Positive. But Mom was always careful enough to hide it so I had no proof.
My silver Persian emerged one crisp evening to have a look. Sassafras, his demon soul trapped inside the body of a cat, slowly blinked his amber eyes, thick tail twitching before he turned a half circle and looked across the street at the Kirkpatricks.
“Your mother,” he said softly to me, “has lost her mind.”
I had to agree with him there.
It wasn’t until the third evening Mary emerged to come have a look.
My heart sank as I stood back and had a real, honest study of my house. My mother was a lot of things—a powerful coven leader, a brilliant witch, the master of the five elements and unparalleled in magic. But when it came to anything domestic…
I’m not sure what Mom was going for, but creepy and ugly probably wasn’t it. If the guys loaded any more lights on the two trees out front they would collapse and burst into flames. Mom wasn’t able to get all one color so green and blue and red mixed with white. Not in a nice way. In a “I don’t know what I’m doing and am possibly stoned” way.
Her attempt to create a jolly snowman welcoming people into our yard made me want to duck and run for cover. I was sure the local kids would have nightmares. And the thick red and white ribbon wrapped around the house didn’t create the candy cane look she was going for. To me it looked more like the place had some kind of terminal disease.
Instead of gloating as I expected she would, Mrs. Kirkpatrick came to stand beside Mom with a smile.
“Lovely, dear,” she said. “Just lovely.”
Mom beamed back. “It is, isn’t it?” Seriously? Was she that deluded?
“A perfect addition to our town Christmas party,” Mary said.
Christmas party? Uh-oh.
“Really?” Mom turned to her immediately. “When?”
“The evening after next,” Mary dimpled at Mom before mock-frowning. “Right here on our street. Oh my, did I fail to mention it to you before now?”
There was the vein. And the jaw clench. “We’re delighted,” Mom said.
Right. Delighted. Wait, what was this “we” stuff?
“Excellent.” Mary simpered. “Don’t forget to enter our little cookie bake off.”
Mom’s face lit up like she was a Christmas tree. “Cookie bake off?”
“Yes, of course.” Mary leaned in with a whisper loud enough the whole street heard her. “A friendly competition between neighbors.”
Oh. My. Swearword.
Allow me to explain my reaction to the burning fever in my mother’s eyes. As I said before, she’s fantastic at all things magic. Brilliant. Unbeatable. If this were a witch contest, a power battle, Mom would have cleaned the asphalt with Mary Kirkpatrick.
But this wasn’t magic. This was normal. And my mom did not do normal. Not without someone getting hurt under the threat of explosions and mayhem.
The decorations were bad enough. But cookies?
There was no way I was willing to be anywhere near her when she baked. In fact, given the choice I would have happily run for the hills to live with the wolves and bears and stuff.
Naturally, Mom had other ideas.
“Gingerbread men, Syd.” She grasped my hand that night, pulling me to her. “Here, look.”
She shoved my nose in the pages of a glossy magazine while Erica forced a smile that did nothing to hide the fear in her eyes. A cute batch of happily decorated cookie people looked back up at me.
“Mom,” I said, “why don’t you let Erica do it?”
“No.” Mom snatched the book back from me, one eye twitching as she glared back and forth between us. “I have to make these myself.”
Okay then. Mom had officially cracked her cauldron.
I think I might have convinced her otherwise, given time and distance. But at that moment, Mary Kirkpatrick signed her own doom when she turned on the power to the rest of her show.
The music pulled Mom to the door like a moth to a flame, the lights on the house across the street flashing to the strains of Christmas carols. I gaped as the Kirkpatrick’s home seemed to dance in time to the songs belting out of their expensive sound system. Sure, it was cool once, but over and over again?
Red cape, meet my mother, the bull.
She was lost in a frenzy from that moment on and no one dared get in her way, not even Gram. She might have been two straws short of a broken camel, but my grandmother wasn’t stupid.
If you really want to know what happened that next day and a half, you can ask Mom. I’m not going there ever, have wiped the memory of the tortured screaming of gingerbread people and my sister sobbing as she ran from the destruction from my mind. Not to mention the glowing red eyes of the demonic batch I had to destroy before they bolted out the back door.
Memories. Gone. Forever.
I do remember the moment the whole house went silent. One minute Mom shrieked at the top of her lungs, the thrum of her power flowing through the house and the next, nothing.
Hesitant, fearful even, Sassafras on one side and Meira on the other, I crept down to the kitchen to peek in and see if our mother self-combusted.
Only to find her sitting at the kitchen table, head in her hands. She looked up at us with a sweet smile and beckoned us forward.
“It’s okay,” she whispered with something akin to reverence. “They are ready.”
A rack sat on the counter next to the stove. Unable to resist, Meira and I went for a look, shocked to find a perfect double dozen gingerbread people laid out to cool. Their shining candy buttons sat in flawless rounds of colored icing, black eyes glistening licorice, smiles wide and adorable.
“Mom,” I said. “You did it.”
She joined us, a single tear trickling down her cheek. “I did.”
When Meira reached out to touch one, Mom reverted to insanity, slapping her fingers away.
“They’re for the judges,” she snarled, hovering over them like a protective lioness with cubs.
When she showed up in my room with a costume in one hand and a manic look of determination on her face, I knew I was in it up to my neck, like it or not.
The elf costume looked like she bought it at a porn store and I just kept my fingers crossed she bought something more tasteful for my sister. When I thudded my unhappy way downstairs to the kitchen, I found Mom sort of dressed too. I think poor old Santa would have died of an aneurysm if the real Mrs. Claus ever appeared done up like that.
“I’m not wearing this in public.” No way was I flaunting myself like I was ready for a blue movie set.
Meira’s reindeer outfit was at least adorable and long enough she didn’t have to worry. Mom studied me a moment before gesturing. My skirt grew three inches and my bodice traveled upward two. Not everything I owned hung out anymore.
Just most of it.
I was then dragged bodily outside to the table she’d set up at the end of our driveway, right across from the table Mrs. Kirkpatrick manned. Naturally our neighbor looked fantastic, all wintery and tailored, Mary’s Mrs. Claus costume straight from the North Pole. Though I have to admit the way her eyebrows jerked upward into the white fur on her hat at the sight of leggy, gorgeous Mom in her pin up outfit was almost worth it.
We didn’t have a moment before the judges arrived and started sampling cookies.
“Divine,” a short, portly older woman said, cramming one of Mom’s cookies into her mouth.
“The best I’ve ever tasted,” said a thin, tall man with a crooked nose and glasses to match.
“I just can’t stop eating them,” said judge number three, a youngish woman with bad acne and a slight lisp.
Mom’s beaming smile slipped as they continued to stuff cookies as fast as they could while Mrs. Kirkpatrick hustled over to glare at the three of them.
“Why, they’re store bought.” She sniffed one, tossed it to the table only to have the man nab it immediately, stogging it in his already overstuff mouth.
“Mom,” I hissed. “What did you do?”
She flushed so red I felt terrible for her, even more so when I felt the whisper of magic she released. Suddenly the three judges coughed and gagged, spitting out bits of gingerbread onto the street.
“Horrible,” the woman said, wiping her tongue on her cuff.
“Disgusting,” the man said, actually turning green.
“I liked them,” the girl said, though she backed away, already trying to escape.
I held Mom’s hand as the judges went to the Kirkpatrick table and announced the inevitable.
“This year’s winner, as usual,” the woman said, “is Mary Kirkpatrick!”
The door slammed behind Mom’s angry back leaving Meira and I to clean up the mess.
By the time we returned inside, Mom was locked in her room. I sighed, certain now we’d be moving. There was no way we’d be living across the street from the Kirkpatricks much longer.
The night fell quiet, the neighbor’s party done, families gone home. I lay there on my bed, trying to think of something to say to Mom, some way to make her feel better. It wasn’t her fault she sucked at normal stuff.
Before I had the chance, I felt a subtle surge of magic followed by the echoing sounds of the Kirkpatrick’s music.
That magic? Yeah, didn’t last long on “subtle”. I had a moment of terror Mom completely lost it and ran for my bedroom door, only to half-collide with her and Meira.
Mom groaned. “Mother,” she said before the three of us ran for the front door.
It gaped open, lights from the house across the street heavily shadowed by something huge in the driveway. I skidded to a halt, staring with utter shock at the twenty-foot gingerbread man hovering over the Kirkpatrick’s, my cackling grandmother doing a jig of joy at his side.
The screaming began almost immediately as Mary jerked the door open to see the huge cookie lean forward and sweep away all the decorations from her lawn. Sweetly skating kids bounced, one headless, down the street to slam into someone’s mailbox even as strings of lights ripped loose to dangle from the gingerbread giant’s hands. He howled in fury, pounding away at the house.
I was amazed to see Mary run out and begin to beat the cookie with an umbrella, defending her decorations, but it was too late by then. When he was through, when Gram finally clapped her hands and he backed away with a roar, not only was the street filled with terrified neighbors who couldn’t seem to bring themselves to run, but the Kirkpatrick’s was a horror of Christmas past.
“Mom!” I turned to her and was positive, just for a moment, there was a smile on her face before her expression settled. My mother strode forward, the family magic leaping out to wrap around the giant cookie. He sighed and shrank, compressing, until he tipped softly to his side, only six inches high again.
“Well,” Mom said far too cheerfully, “I suppose we’re moving, girls.”
As we pulled away, the house magically emptied, the entire coven leaving en masse, I glanced back at the Kirkpatrick’s. Mom personally handled Mary’s memory rewrite and I caught the woman waving, smiling at us as if nothing happened.
“Mom,” I said as we sped off, “I thought you were going to fix her decorations?”
Suspicious, yes. Considering how horrible the house looked, as bad as ours had.
“Oh, Syd,” Mom said in her sweetest voice, “I tried, I really did. But we both know I could never do as good a job as Mary Kirkpatrick.”
Gram’s cackling laughter filled the van as we drove off.
Please let me know what you think! I’m also planning to start recording some of my books a chapter at a time and adding them to my Youtube channel, so stay tuned for that. For now, happy listening and have a wonderful holiday season.