Let's get all of the jokes out of the way right now.
My name is Harrison Potter, but for most of my life I've been called Harry. You get it ... Harry Potter. Go ahead and laugh; laugh away ... you know you want to. Get it out of your system so I can tell my story. It's a serious one. Sure it involves witches and even wands ... Damn it! Stop laughing! This is a serious story and it doesn't involve a single overly cute kid or castles or schools of magic! Well, maybe there is some magic involved ... or maybe not. You can decide for yourself.
Since the first Harry Potter book came out in the US about ten years ago, I couldn't count the amount of times I've heard someone joke "You're a wizard Harry". It does wear a bit thin after a while, like after the second time I heard it, not to mention the second hundredth. And I've heard all the puns about my 'wand'. Been there, done that - have the t-shirt.
For two years now I've been the Town Sheriff of Spooky Hollow, Vermont, sometimes called Halloween Town, USA. No, that's not the same as Sleepy Hollow, the fictional town based upon the old Washington Irving story. But it might as well be. We're as witch haunted as Arkham, Massachusetts, albeit without most of the spooky gothic architecture. Sometimes things around here do go bump in the night, but that's why the township pays my salary.
I got the job the old fashioned way. I suffered ten years of hard work and training in law enforcement, mostly with the San Francisco Police Department. So I had merit ... and my father had also been the Town Sheriff here for nearly twenty years. He put in twenty-five years with the NYPD and then 'retired' here. He died quietly in his sleep of a heart attack while still in his mid-sixties and just moments after he was lowered into his grave the Township Aldermen (and woman) asked me if I'd assume his position. I hadn't really wanted to retire early from the SFPD, but I didn't know how I could have said no to the town council. Back in California, the state and city were both feeling pretty broke that year, so they were looking to reduce government payroll anyway. I had been there just over ten years so I qualified for a small 'early retirement' lump-sum payout, plus their full 401k matching payments. There was also dad's NYPD pension and life insurance, his personal 401k savings, plus another small insurance policy funded by the township, plus dad had another smaller personal life insurance policy via his New York police credit union. Dad's finances were in very good shape indeed and when everything was cashed in and all lumped together it came to quite a tidy sum. This easily covered my minor moving expenses and allowed me to dump the rest into my personal investment and retirement accounts to grow some more for a hopefully very comfortable retirement.
The Township Sheriff's salary wasn't particularly generous, being quite a bit less than what I had made in San Francisco, but my expenses here would be far lower here, which would more than make up the difference. My father's house was paid for in full and the local food prices at the area farmers markets were also a bit cheaper than west coast supermarket prices. The township also paid for my police cruiser and its gas and maintenance. Finances shouldn't be any trouble whatsoever, especially since I was still single and didn't have a wife or family to support.
I'd miss that big beautiful city, Sodom-by-the-Sea, a lot - but returning to Spooky Hollow was really just like returning home ... in the good sort of nostalgic way.
I think dad had guessed recently that his days were numbered. He hadn't been feeling well for months and he complained to me about chest pains during our last phone conversation. During his last days he had completely cleaned up his small house, updated his will and left me a couple of long handwritten notes. He wanted me to take his place ... but warned me of the dire perils of living solely off of the cheeseburgers at Karin's Kountry Kitchen, the local diner, which did serve the best burgers I'd ever had. They were the food of the gods when I was a teenager and they only seemed to taste better now. I think it is the maple wood smoking of their grilled beef and the local cured bacon piled on top, not to mention the locally made Vermont white cheddar cheese generously melted in-between. Yum.
Assuming the job of Sheriff, my father had left me with a small but competent staff that didn't begrudge me coming in from 'outside' to rule over their roost. I'd gone to both middle and high school here and I knew virtually everyone worth knowing in the entire valley. I had also returned here fairly regularly for vacations and holidays to visit my dad so I'd never really been forgotten or treated like a visiting stranger. We had always been quite close. I was just enough of a outsider that folks respected my authority, but enough of a local that nearly everyone kept me on a first name basis and trusted me well enough to not worry about me abusing my position either.
Dad had always handled law enforcement in the valley with a very light and balanced touch. We didn't have any 'big city' crime issues and frankly our only real disturbances were with bored teenagers letting their fun get out of hand or wrangling escaped dairy cows in the central valley. The hills and mountains on three sides of us are heavily forested and frankly more than a bit dangerous, and even the most adventurous teens usually know well enough to stay out of them, but we always seem to lose at least one or two every year anyway. Always have ... this was true even when I was a curious kid.
Every remote New England town has old ghost stories, but there was just something about being up in these hills at night guaranteed to put the fear of the supernatural into even the most courageous brave soul, or teenager with overly adventurous hormones. Now it's the visitors, mostly hikers and geo-cachers that we normally have to worry about. Most are skilled enough to not need our professional rescue services, but invariably accidents do occur and the Pauwau Mountains are no place to be trapped if one occurs.
There was occasionally the issue of handling a drunk or troublesome tourist, but since most of the town industry utterly depended upon those day-trippers they had to be handled with baby gloves, as gently as possible. My father was superb at this; he almost never issued a traffic ticket but with a few friendly words could usual get the rudest Mass-Hole or New York visitor to see their error and apologize. The stranger then leaves us (hopefully) in a good mood and willing to return someday, maybe with his friends ... and with more money.
Most of the other towns around us are pretty much blatant speed traps and write a gazillion traffic tickets a year. We can't do that ... those tourists and visitors are our life blood.
Spooky Hollow, aka "Halloween Town USA", got its start during the height of the Depression in the mid-1930's. The idea for it began when a small mountaintop town in the next county over called Maple Ridges, found that its traditional winter skiing and maple syrup businesses had both dropped below the levels of town sustainability. Everyone was broke and businesses were closing right and left. Their town council decided that they needed to do something to bring in the out-of-state tourists, or heck any kind of tourist or paying customer at all. After a lengthy debate, and a few unusual new town ordinances, they officially changed their town name to Santa's Village, Vermont.
The plan was to become a year-around Christmas themed town, but specializing in bringing in the tourists for holiday ski vacations. They shipped in a herd of Lapland reindeer and built a large Santa's Workshop for the local unemployed workers (wearing elf suits) to make toys for the tourists to buy, and they decorated every square inch of the town in holiday decorations and waiting for the spending customers to arrive. It took a few years, but by 1940 the experiment could be considered a success. The war years hurt tourism a lot, but starting again after 1946 business soon became even better than ever! They're still going like gangbusters today. It was an idea worth stealing.
Our town, formerly known as Pauwau Valley Township, was in slightly better financial shape with its dairy, cheese and maple syrup industries, but we were no one's idea of a tourist destination. We are not located on a major state road and visitors must take a small local county road five miles from the nearest state highway to reach us in the center of the valley. We don't have any fancy ski lodges or resorts here since the snow levels here in the valley can be a bit unpredictable. With mountains to our west, north and east, sometimes the big snowstorms tend to dump most of their snow on the other side of those slopes and leave us only with the leftovers. This is quite ideal for dairy farming, but not so good for bringing in outside big city spenders or snowbirds wanting to play.
Seeing the success of Santa's Village, the aldermen of our township deliberated long about doing nearly exactly the same thing. They held endless meetings and dithered so long that another Vermont town in a county to the south-east of us decided to beat us to the punch getting into the themed holiday town action as well. They renamed themselves Liberty Town in 1942 and decided to go the ultra-patriotic route, capitalizing on the summer Fourth of July holiday trade. They did pretty well for a decade or two but during the Vietnam years they changed their name back to Pasuak in a fit of anti-military ultra-liberalism. There was talk a few years back that they might revert back to becoming Liberty Town once again, but the start of the Iraq War and a fresh outbreak of local anti-war jingoism put an end to that.
At last, in 1948 our township voted to officially rename itself as the Township of Spooky Hollow and in less than a decade we had became the premier Halloween tourist destination in all of New England. It was a license to print money and ever since then the crowds of tourists have only grown each year. The tourists come and enjoy themselves and spend their money happily and the locals as a result enjoy low property taxes and new markets for their dairy and maple products. The township is even able to salt away a huge 'rainy day' savings fund for the future. It's a win-win for everyone here! A few of the businesses even make so much profit during 'the season' that they can stay closed, or mostly so, for most of the rest of the year.
It also helps our marketing image significantly that we do have our very own true historically documented Civil War era 'evil witch' story, 'The Spooky Hollow Witch'!
According to our town records, a certain woman named Hausisse (a generic Algonquin Indian word meaning 'old woman') was living in the upper northeastern reaches of Pauwau Valley on the upper part of Fsau (or Ghost) Creek, which already even by then had the local name of Spooky Hollow. She was infamous for wreaking her own special brand of havoc by leveling curses right and left before she met a suddenly violent and mysterious end ... and on Halloween night too! What could possibly be better? It's a story just perfect for Hollywood!
Like the also infamous Bell Witch of Tennessee, old Hausisse was pretty much accorded to be a complete nutjob by all of her neighbors. Dangerously insane, completely batshit crazy and howling at the moon mad. If anyone ever had anything nice to say about her it isn't recorded by any of the dozens of surviving official complaints filed against her between the years of 1836 to 1863, the only years that the township records mention her. There is an oral tradition that she was half Mahican Indian and that her father had been a tribal medicine man who had sided with the English during the Revolutionary years, but there is zero written evidence to support that claim. It is fairly clear she did not get along at all with her neighbors and was plainly accounted by all to be a witch, and not a kindly 'misunderstood' good one either.
The townships records, which are oddly incomplete and sometimes annoyingly vague, clearly list a litany of complaints against her. It was all of the usual 19th century sort of complaints about women suspected to be in league with the devil; people cursed, cows poisoned or cursed, monstrous black cats seen at night near her home, more cows missing (presumed eaten by the cat), and other accounts and accusations of performing black magic. Oh, and yet more complaints about cursed cows. In other words, all of the usual stuff that crazy old women used to be accused of doing back in the dark days before satellite television.
Her curses were successful enough to make her apparently a rather rich woman, as she demanded good silver or even gold in payment to release her malevolent blights upon her neighbors. She was also reputed to be a miser, hardly ever parting with even a clipped penny.
What makes our crazy senile witch more interesting and relevant is found in the surviving documentation of the events of 1863. Many of the township records from this period are missing; someone suspiciously minded might think that these records were removed or destroyed intentionally long before even my father became sheriff here. Yeah, that would definitely include me ... my cop nose can smell a cover-up even a hundred and fifty years later.
The few undisputed facts of the Spooky Hollow Witch case are these. Late in the spring of 1863, a certain Thomas Gladdener was appointed by the Governor to be a special inspector for the state to coordinate with the federal government with its new draft of young men for the Union Army. In theory, this was supposed to mean that Gladdener was only supposed to insure that proper draft rules were observed, but in practice he soon found himself in the position of receiving large payments for commutations - for granting deferrals to wealthy young men for releasing them from army service. Soon he hit upon the scheme of coercing groups of uneducated rural men that could then be hired out by him as 'substitutes', earning him a fee of up to $500 dollars per man that he could enlist, voluntarily or not, into army service as a designated substitute. That was an awful lot of money in those days. In fact, his methods of coercion were plainly just kidnapping under the vague guise of law. Prepared with an armed force of accomplices, and unfortunately entirely legal paperwork that declared himself to be licensed state agent, he would travel across rural Vermont gathering every single young man he could muster, by any means, illegal or foul.
His usual method of gathering draftees was to gather a listing of the town's men folk and then prepare forged conscription documents, complete with a valid state seal, which they would use to then force the young man into drafted service. The draftee, if truculent, would be shackled and then placed on the nearest train for the state capitol, often in groups of a hundred men at a time, like convicts in a chain-gang. His agent and partner in crime there would arrange the sale of these new substitutes and then handle their final delivery to the Union Army recruiters. The Union Army was desperate enough for men and ignored the circumstances behind these sometimes extremely irregular and quite illegal deliveries of recruits.
In a very short time, Thomas Gladdener was a very rich man, but like most criminals he was greedy for yet more profit, and yet another big score long after he should have had the sense to quit. In the fall of 1863, he and his inland press-gang arrived at Pauwau Valley, but found the pickings to be extremely slim as warning had arrived a few days earlier of his approach. Only five young men could be located and captured, including the son of the Spooky Hollow Witch, a young man of uncertain age named Ethan. No last name for him is listed and no birth certificate has ever been found, but several surviving township notations for the lad invariably list him as being 'simple'.
Naturally this did not sit at all well with the old witch, who was then alleged to have cursed Gladdener and the entire township, for allowing this malfeasance to occur. She probably had a good point there. Already Gladdener's irregular recruiting activities were stirring up legal difficulties up at the capitol and eventually (after the war was over) his actions were proven to be illegal and some minor settlements were made to his victims. His abuses were already quite common knowledge and most towns never lifted a finger to assist him when he arrived. Why Pauwau Valley decided to cooperate is not explained in any of the township records. In any case, they did – they got cursed – and then bad things started to happen ... in spades!
From this point, the few remaining township records for 1863 get much vaguer. There is an expense account for the parish church listed for twelve cords of cut firewood and the services of the gravedigger in October 1863, but no specific explanation of who was buried (or burned) or why the township itself paid for the expense. Yes, you can burn an awful lot of witches with over 1500 cubic feet of wood, but apparently they either had a lot of other bodies that needed burning (cremation was not at all customary at that time in these parts) or else someone wanted to make damn sure this one witch stayed burned!
There are no apparent gravestones or markers for those particular burial or burials either, but oral tradition has it that the simple uncarved white stone at the southeastern corner of the township cemetery marks the location for this peculiar internment of remains. You guessed it, the furthest and most remote corner of the graveyard where no grass or even weeds ever grow. The monthly alderman's meeting minutes for both October and November of that year are missing; the twenty-seven lost pages were apparently deliberately torn from the yearly record book. When this was done and by whom is unknown, but obviously the township decided that they wanted no written record of what had occurred and wanted the entire incident forgotten ... and remain that way.
Right at about this time Thomas Gladdener also disappears from history, his place and time of death unknown. The only two rumors of any substance are that he had fled to Canada (with his wealth) and changed his name there in order to evade a forthcoming state investigation about this time. The other rumor is that he was murdered somewhere in the wild mountains of Vermont in revenge for his crimes. There isn't a drop of evidence for either claim. His last historical recorded sighting was in Pauwau Valley on Halloween day, if or when he ever left here is a matter of conjecture.
The final remaining shred of evidence concerning her fate is a short sentence in a courting-letter written by a local dairy farmer to his intended in early November 1864 that commented tersely that he had 'lost a cow in Spooky Hollow on the high slopes near Ghost Creek on All Hallows Eve night for the first time since the old witch was burned on that same day last year.'
After this letter the Ghost Creek Witch disappears completely out of history and nearly out of legend as well. One legend that remains is that her familiar, a monstrous black cat, can be seen prowling in hunger on Halloween night each year in the rugged heavily forested hills of Spooky Hollow. Fortunately this location is nearly uninhabited to this day, and Jeff Bernard, owner of the nearest dairy farm at the furthest northwest corner of the valley holds no credence with any of the legends and never speaks of the witch's curse or her gigantic black cat at all - under any circumstances.
So much for history and legend.
Today the witch's stone hut is just a pile of collapsed stones that do show old ancient burn marks, abandoned and ignored even by most curious teenagers or treasure hunters. Nearby there is a small cave in the mountains that is empty and equally shunned. The old witch is gone, but never quite forgotten. Her fortune is still rumored to be buried somehow in the hills near Spooky Hollow and Ghost Creek, but by all accounts it is said to be cursed as well.
In fact, because the witch's actual house was so far up into the valley mountains and fairly inaccessible, the township built a 'new and restored' hut much closer to town, now an easy walk for the curious and macabre minded tourists. Nothing inside the hut is original or actually ever belonged to the witch either. It's all regional antiques or else modern reproductions. In fact the hut is a pure Hollywood 'B' movie horror stage with everything and anything sinister or ghoulish the town could find to stock it with, complete with bubbling cauldrons, fog machines and shrunken heads hanging from the ceiling.
Silly ... but it does keep the tourists happy.
I had only been at the job for a couple of months on a nice warm early July day when I found myself faced with my first town crisis. Ellie McGuire was retiring from her role as the official 'Town Witch' just three short months before Halloween. Ellie had held the job since 1972, when she took over the position from her mother Regina, our original Town Witch elected in 1948.
Neither mother nor daughter possessed an ounce of magical or psychic power. The position was a purely ceremonial one, to dress up the part and cackle a lot for the benefit of the tourists. Regina had dressed up more or less like Glinda, the Good Witch of Oz, complete with white flowing sparkling gowns and glittery wands. Her daughter started to help out beginning in the sixties and went a bit more Hammer House of Horror style and played the 'bad witch' superbly, dressing all in black, complete with a tall pointed hat, crooked fake nose and stick-on warts. She was also very good at cackling and threatening to put young children into her cauldrons. The tourists ate it up and came back for seconds.
Now Ellie was nearly seventy, complete with bad knees and arthritic hips and just wanted to retire and move to someplace warm, like Miami Beach. Her own daughter, a paralegal with a family of her own up in Montpelier, didn't want the job ... and neither did anyone else in town that was a decent candidate. The job of being the public face for the entire town actually entailed quite a bit of regular and fairly hard work all year round and the township salary for the position was fairly nominal.
Faced with something of a crisis, the township did what it did best and they dithered doing nothing for nearly a full month. In the end, and in a bit of a panic, they formed a small three member panel to recruit and interview candidates for the job. Our head alderman, Joseph Sprightly was the nominal boss, but our resident busy-body alderwoman Evita Lee somehow managed to control 95% of our agenda, as usual. The last member of the panel was me; the sole voice of reason, also as usual.
We exhausted the short list of potential local candidates fast, and then argued pointlessly for two weeks before I convinced my fellow panel members that we would have to bring in an 'outsider'. Then there were another few days of annoying pointless debate before I convinced the township to accept this solution, and give us some budget money to do some newspaper advertising. In the end, they only doled out enough money for some tiny classified help-wanted ads that ran for a week in the Montpelier, Boston and New York newspapers. Certain that those ads wouldn't attract the 'right sort' of colorful candidates, I then secretly (and using my own money), placed slightly larger ads in the Salem News in Massachusetts and the Village Voice alternative newspaper in New York.
Really now ... if you want to find a 'modern' witch you've got to at least look in the right places!
In the end, we received something in the ballpark of about six thousand applications for the position, 95% of which could be safely tossed straight into the reject pile, despite the written warnings on some of the applications which threatened to curse us if they didn't get the job. Amateurs! Hell, we've already been cursed by an ancient professional! We had lots of nominations for various mothers-in-laws or ex-wives, and more people than I could recall counting suggested that we should contact either Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin. Excellent choices! I sent them both an offer but neither of their offices ever responded back before the end of our deadline. Either woman would have been superb!
One enterprising and creative young man asked if we were also in the market for any 'village idiots'. I wrote him back and told him that I already held that job, but the town could always use an extra talented amateur. I warned him that the position would be unpaid, except for a small standard hourly wage during prime tourist season in October, with a slight bonus if he could also double as an Igor or Quasimodo. He moved into town a few weeks later and took to the life of playing village idiot for the tourists like a duck to water. He's a semi-starving writer and I think he's writing a book about us on the sly. That's fine by me, since it will probably be hilarious when it's published. Some of the Aldermen (especially the Alderwoman) were less than amused, but I've quietly told my staff of constables to not hassle the guy.
Another less amusing gentleman threatened us with a civil rights class action lawsuit if we did not also accept male applicants for equal consideration for the position. I told him (semi-politely) to go bite himself and stop bothering us or we'd have our witch cover his ass with warts.
I won't even bother to mention the scads of letters from 'good Christian' men and women who were horrified at our glorification and worship of Satan, and his witchery. They besought us to 'abjure our wickedness and repent while there was still yet time'. A few hinted that a good old-fashioned witch-burning might be pleasant to the eyes and nostrils of the almighty as well. We received enough of these letters that I created a form response letter that thanked them for their interest in the always open position of 'sacrificial virgin' for our black masses, but that we needed a medical certification that they were indeed virgins before we could consider them further. I signed the letter, Tomás de Torquemada, Jr, Head Abbott of Costello Abbey and Assistant Undersecretary to the Ministry of Difficult Bowel Movements. If they had any further questions then they could contact us there, where undoubtedly they could be sure of finding some relief.
I thought that this was definitely a creative way of telling the religious zealots that they were full of shit!
We weeded down the serious applicants to about a hundred and notified them that they were under possible consideration but that we would need to see them audition for us in full costume and in character. They were invited to come visit us, interview and try-out their best witchery on a first-come, first-served no-appointment basis during the afternoons of the following week. About half accepted and arrived for our audition.
We had young and old witches in all shapes and personas. Some traditional Disney or 'Oz' style, others even more traditional 'Grimm's Fairy Story', and a horde of modern neo-pagan Wiccans with ritual daggers (called athemes) at their waists, an overload of silver jewelry, and each wearing cloaks and other all-natural fabric garments that flowed as freely as Samhain mead into our meeting room. Unfortunately nearly always with an extreme excess of tie-dyed material. Some of the costumes were pretty good but the acting was largely sub-par. Most were a little too goth or industrial-vampire style for our tastes.
A great many of the candidates never quite grasped the understanding that this position was a permanent lifestyle change and not just a costume that had to put on a few days a year. Halloween in this town was big business and needed a real professional witch that could hack the job as a 24/7 year-around career. In the end we came down to a short list of five candidates that we all thought would do, but we had no consensus top pick that everyone loved.
That last Friday of the final day of the deadline, we were rehashing old trivial arguments and generally muddling about pointlessly, when my dream candidate walked right into our little township meeting hall and proceeded to steal the competition away in a matter of moments.
She was obviously a modern witch, a true dyed in the wool Wiccan, complete with the bangles, bracelets, necklaces and hair ornaments in her waist length long and slightly curly raven black hair. Original equipment, not colored. She was dressed all in dark colors, mostly in shades of charcoal grey and dark greens and reds with a peasant style blouse and long flowing skirt, but on her it didn't look Emo or otherwise depressing. The silver metallic thread embroidered Celtic symbols along the sleeves and hems were a very nice original touch. A pair of vintage black and orange tortoiseshell round rim glasses perched near the tip of her smallish but cute pert nose completed the ensemble. It fit her face; sincere but very earnest and brainy but still practical. She seemed to be about my age, in her early-mid thirties. All in all she looked much like a Wicca version of Janis Joplin. A tad overweight, but tall enough to carry it off even without heels. She kept her shoulders up and her chest (and there was rather a decent amount of it) out, enough so to tell that she was not wearing a bra and that it might be a little bit chilly outside causing her nipples to poke out significantly through her blouse. Best of all of her features, she had dark violet eyes to die for.
She would do ... oh yes, she would most definitely do!
"I understand that this is where I'm supposed to meet the township council, concerning my availability to assume the position of becoming the new town witch." She asked. It wasn't quite a question, more of a firm statement of fact.
"Ah, yes ... but you're now too late. We're discussing the selection from the final list of candidates now." Evita muttered, hardly bothering to even look up at the woman. Typical of her. Beyond a doubt, she was the rudest and most politically overbearing member of the township's Board of Aldermen. She always had to interfere with everything and constantly meddle with and fix things that weren't necessarily broken. No one liked her, but we all had to tolerate her ... except for our candidate witch.
"Not at all, I'm quite on time. The final deadline for personal interviews is 4 p.m. this afternoon, which gives me over forty-five minutes to inform you for the record that I will accept your job invitation offer and that I am prepared and ready to begin my duties at once. Now let's discuss my compensation package."
Silence. Evita was looking up in shock and old Joseph was carefully checking his hearing-aid to see if he had somehow misheard. I was smiling and trying hard not to laugh out loud.
"Let's not be hasty." Evita muttered, trying to regain control of the interview. "We're not at all sure that you're even under consideration for this extremely important position, nor am I at all convinced that you have the proper qualifications, or have the right sort of suitable experience."
Our witch smiled. It was a nasty sort of smile that looked pleasant on the surface but hinted at lots of sharp teeth hiding in the background, ready for use. I scooted my chair over a few inches further away from Evita's. I didn't want to get caught in the backlash if something appalling happened to her, like getting turned into a frog. Evita would make a much better frog than she was a human being.
"On the contrary, I am by far the most qualified witch you have spoken with. Can any of your other witch candidates brew herbal potions, cast spells to find lost or missing objects, remove curses and deflect omens of ill-fortune ... let alone incant prayers to the Goddess for the health of your cows, the richness of your maple syrup and the overall bountifulness of your crops? I won't even mention the correct and proper brewing of love potions, philters for correcting certain male performance problems, or ill-performing bowels. I thought not. Floozy actresses and rank amateurs, the lot of them! Nor are any of your other candidates in possession of an actual Witch's Certification License, or a state Midwife's license or a Nurse Practitioner's license, and also with a recommendation from the Better Business Bureau."
She produced each of these documents and placed them on our table for perusal. A quick glance confirmed for me that her credentials were entirely legitimate and very much in order. I smiled and nodded at her. Evita, very much now off of her script, was blathering trivial objections that didn't seem to have much bearing with the new reality of the situation. Finding a real licensed and certified witch with claims of actual pseudo-magical abilities hadn't quite been on anyone's list of expectations, including mine. Besides, we didn't have a licensed midwife or a NP living in the valley. Either of those two certifications was more than worth her salary alone!
"I'm sorry," Evita began, "You are just not at all what I, I mean we, have in mind. You just won't do! Thank you for your time – you can go now! Good Day!"
With a casual glance over her shoulder out the window, our witch remained standing before us and smiled a little wider. In fact I'd call that smile nearly a smirk. A very nasty sort of evil smirk that I hadn't seen the likes of since 3rd grade, when Patty Zimmerman poured her half-pint box of milk all over her own school cafeteria luncheon tray and then started to loudly cry and proclaimed to the teachers that I had done it. Naturally, everyone believed her to a fault and I got stuck with no recess play and extra homework for a week.
"Excuse me, if you're the former owner of that blue Mercedes that is now on fire out in the parking lot, you'd better go and do something about it ... and fast. I'd rather not have the paint on my Honda CRV hybrid blistered or the tires scorched ... that would really make me very upset."
It was Evita's Mercedes ... and it was now a ball of flames out in the parking lot. She screamed and left the room running to call the volunteer fire department and didn't return until long after the end of our panel session at 4 o'clock.
Joseph gave me a quizzical look, but I nodded my head vigorously and gave her two thumbs up. Anyone who could put Evita in her place without breaking a sweat was 'A-Okay' in my book. A moment later the official vote was 2-0 with one absent vote to confirm our new town witch, Ms. Judi Jerome. We were to call her either Judi or Ms. Jerome ... she most certainly did not like to be called JJ.
Her compensation package ended up being significantly higher than we had paid Ellie, enough so that the full Township Council grumbled rather loudly before they finally approved her hire, but on a probationary basis. I reminded the Council that in my opinion we were getting at least three times the witch that Ellie had been, for about double her old salary. Again, her medical certifications were more than worth the hiring price alone, and after I beat this into their thick heads four or five times, they grudgingly approved her hire by the vote of 6-1. Yes, Evita was the lone 'no' vote.
I'd like to say that Judi and I immediately hit it off like a wildfire, but while she was unfailingly polite to me, she also had a hard central core of reserve that made it hard for us to become instant friends. She kept her personal thoughts private and fell immediately into her job role, both day and night. I think she could tell that I was obviously instantly smitten by her, but she kept our relationship 'professional' at all times and she declined my every invitation for lunch, dinner or just a casual drink. Always politely, but very firmly.
Judi Jerome had felt the call to Wicca while still a teenager and had the luxury of some family money to indulge her increasingly unconventional education into the religious and mystical arts and sciences. She was good enough at her trade to have been recommended by her peers and she had no shortage of written testimonial letters from previous happy clients. Until recently she had been operating a small 'Magick and Potions' shop in a small Massachusetts village near Salem, but the spirits had apparently told her that 'this was where she needed to be' when she'd read my impromptu advertisement in the local Salem newspaper.
Judi had indeed come to her interview all ready to assume the job immediately. Her small SUV was loaded up with everything she owned and she was all ready to move in. Along with her annual salary, her job came complete with free housing, the so called 'Witch House', not to be confused with the faux "Spooky Hollow Witch house" for the tourists which was not far away. For the moment, Ellie was still living there but she had plenty of room and she offered to share it with her new replacement for the next week or two until she finished her packing and made her migration to the warmer winters of the sunny gulf coast.
This suited everyone fine and Ellie spent the next week or so familiarizing Judi with the tourist routine in the town and then showing her around the entire valley, except for the northeastern bits near Ghost Creek. Judi did want to see the old Spooky Hollow Witch house and cave, but Ellie's knees and bad hip weren't up to the climb so they stuck to just the roads in that area.
While some elements in the town were uncomfortable with an apparently very real and genuine witch now in their midst, she soon proved her worth. The fact that she was a licensed nurse was helpful right from the very start. Our county did have a practicing doctor and a nurse practitioner, but their office was about twenty miles away and neither resided locally. Judi soon proved herself to be quick thinking, medically knowledgeable and extremely practical, albeit more than a bit unconventional. For minor non-life threatening injuries, soon folks visited Judi first and only then visiting the doctor if prescription medications were necessary. She offered a wide selection of homeopathic medications for her visiting customers, but made it very clear that her sales didn't cross over into replicating prescription required drugs. She stayed well within the limit of the law and never had any troubles with me on that regard at all.
Her feud with Evita was short but decisive. Our trouble-making Alderwoman had done her best to fight Ms. Jerome's appointment with the entire township council, and then kept her eyes peeled for anything that could cause us to terminate her probationary period. Failing to find anything just seemed to make Evita even more angry and determined. Arson was not even vaguely suggested by my deputies who investigated the unusual car fire and our town mechanic was entirely positive that the cause of the fire was natural and definitely caused by an oil leak in the engine. Still, with her ego damaged beyond repair, Evita kept crying arson, long after the township attorney warned her to cease and desist with her unfounded accusations. She'd never been popular and took it badly when nearly everyone supported Judi, and even welcomed here. No one liked her much even before and now she was most definitely an object of derision across the entire valley.
Eventually Evita was convinced that if she ran for reelection in November that she would lose ... and badly. Even before Halloween and the end of her term, Evita soon decided that if she couldn't win then she didn't want to play and she took a leave of absence. Three weeks later she packed up, sold her house and moved. No one cared enough to ask her where she was moving to.
Some gossips wagged their tongues that Judi had paid Evita a short private visit just before her sudden decision to quit the Council and abruptly leave town and had put the 'fear of the Goddess' into her. Judi certainly never spoke a word about any such meeting, but it was quite clear that on the black to white scale of witches, that she was very much a 'gray witch', quite readily willing and able to exact mystical revenge for any wrong-doings. "The strong right arm of karma", she once laughingly told me. Fortunately, from everything that I heard from others, she was really mostly on the whiter side of that dividing line and no one ever accused her of going looking for any trouble with anyone.
Word did get around that you didn't want to get onto her bad side and face her evil eye. When a wife with a history of being abused by her husband paid a visit to Judi to get a broken finger reset, her ill-fated spouse soon found himself with the worst heaping run of bad luck I'd ever seen. He fell off of a tractor twice and broke an arm and then an ankle, and then he was kicked by a cow that broke some ribs. Not to mention that his truck also seemed to suffer a strange brake fluid leak that caused him to suffer a bad wreck at the bottom of a hill. I guess mentioning his new sexual non-performance problems would be a bit too gossipy, so I'll skip that. He's healthy (and well-behaved) now, but I don't know how much feminine ass he had to kiss to get the curse lifted.
The smarter men got the hint quick. Our valley isn't a hotbed of domestic abuse, but the winters up here in New England are long and sometime household nerves get a bit frayed. Our witch did play it fair and didn't just automatically take the feminine side of things. Judi made it clear to the women that she had their back if things got nasty ... but she also turned the tables and threatened punishment against a woman or two that had crossed too far over to the other side and had allegedly abused their man. Sounded like fair justice to me. She knew at a glance when someone was lying to her, and trust me, that is something that no one with any sense would try even once ... and even the fools never tried it twice!
For me, as sheriff, it was almost like having another deputy or social councilor on-staff whose sole job was to handle domestic disturbances. People soon brought their problems to Judi first and usually had their domestic predicaments resolved, quietly, by her in private and with a minimum of public gossip. Soon my already fairly low caseload of these sorts of public and private disorders trickled down to nearly nothing. The minor incidents got defused early and rarely ever turned into major disturbances.
I thanked Judi for this as soon as I noticed the trend but she just sort of blinked at me, confused as to why I even thought it was a big deal. She was just 'doing her job', for the locals as well as to the tourists. As far as she was concern, it was exactly what a 'Town Witch' ought to be doing.
Our first Halloween season with our new witch went smoothly, and it was one of our best years on record financially. It had become cold a bit earlier than usual, which always helped to put the tourists into a holiday mood sooner, but the early snow had held off, giving us nice clear and crisp weather for every weekend that October, our prime tourist season.
The tourists also seemed to like the 'new witch'. She was more 'Harry Potter' style than old Ellie was, a more down to earth potion-making and wand-waving sort of witch that fit in better with what the kids (especially the tween and teen girls) saw in the movies and on TV. The fact that Judi was 'real' just made things much more exotic and interesting. Some of our local teen girls naturally got it into their head that joining a Wicca coven would be a pretty cool thing to do, but Judi seemed to be exceptionally picky about whom she would teach even the basics of the craft to. For starters real witchery seemed to require more training than most girls had the time or the patience for, and wasn't nearly as exciting or exotic a hobby as most had hoped. Too many hours finding or growing hundreds of different herbs and learning all of the medicinal or magical properties of each ... and not nearly enough time dancing 'sky clad' around ceremonial fires and brewing love potions to restore straying boyfriends. By spring she only had a small core group of three young apprentices and that suited everyone fine.
With our tourist season the most profitable one in years, the township happily counted up the receipts and declared Judi's probationary period to be over – giving her the job permanently. We cleaned up the trash, gave ourselves a bit of a rest and promptly got ourselves seriously snowed under about two weeks before Thanksgiving. The early winter weather hadn't been too bad, but not nearly suitable for a making a trek up the snow covered forested hills to take Judi to see the original witch stone hut and cave, which she had been eager to look over. I had spent nearly a week right after Halloween looking for two tourists that had disappeared somewhere in the valley sometime on Halloween night and I hadn't found a trace of them ... and I wasn't in the mood for a sightseeing trip back to the same area. Even with a pretty and talented witch I was itching to spend more time with.
I never did find a single trace of the lost tourists. Their car was found parked up near the north end of the valley near the Bernard farm, the farm closest to Spooky Hollow and Ghost Creek ... and the old witch's place. Apparently they'd heard about the real ancient witch and decided to try and visit her on Halloween night. What fucking idiots! I had every deputy searching the area non-stop until the state police took over the case a week later. I didn't like having my first big case going into the books as unsolved, but everyone agreed there were just no clues to follow. They were declared missing and then finally dead. Assumed to have gotten lost up in the mountains and then to have fallen into some rockslide, crevasse, ravine or old mining tunnel or cave. I wasn't happy with this conclusion but that's what the State Police eventually decided and the matter was declared closed.
Going back up into the mountains in the winter snow would have been pointless, with nearly nothing at all to see, so I told Judi that I'd take her up there sometime in the spring, after the snow melt floods and when the ground was a bit dryer and the climb a bit safer. There is nothing inherently safe about any part of the Spooky Hollow section of the mountains and/or Ghost Creek. The trees are dark and thick and the ground is steeply sloped with innumerable ravines and rock canyons going into the mountains. Cows are always getting loose and wanting to climb up there for some stupid reason and then unfailingly suffering some fall or injury. The legends say that Ghost Creek is littered with human bones going back beyond even colonial days, but in my opinion 99% of those bones belong to dumb wandering cows!
Once the snow began to melt in early spring, I was ready to take Judi off to visit the old witch house but every time I offered she'd just smile and say that the timing wasn't quite right yet, often with a casual look up towards the sky. After the third or so rejection, I just pretty much gave up trying and told her that she knew where my office was and my phone number in case the stars were ever 'exactly right'. She just laughed and assured me that we would indeed have our little trip off into the woods soon enough.
Judi was actually so constantly busy that I wasn't at all sure when she'd ever have even a moment for me, stars willing or not. All winter she had apparently conducted regular public ceremonies, including but not limited to, Winter Solstice rites with extra various fire festivals, full moon rites, such as the Mourning Moon (November), Long Nights Moon (December), Cold Moon (January). Not mention all of the private Yule log, 'hearth & home' ceremonies for Brighid, or house cleansing rituals for spring. And that list probably wasn't half of her rituals. Now with Easter ... well, I mean Beltane near at hand, her life just seemed to become even more hectic. Whenever I saw her she was always going to or from an appointment and her three apprentice girls were looking positively frazzled. No wonder, for May Day itself she had at least three separate major celebrations planned, of which apparently only two had the prior approval of the Township Council.
The May Day Fair was actually a pretty good idea from conception to final execution. We had a big visitor mailing list from our annual Halloween endeavors, and with the grudging approval of the Council (they hate spending money for any reason – except to sometimes make even more money), she composed and mailed a publicity flyer for the May Day Fair, featuring our resident carnival rides, picnics and games, and of course a maypole celebration. I think she also placed a few newspaper ads in the right sort of alternative papers because although we enjoyed a very strong turnout of the 'regulars', there were also a goodly number of folks that probably represented several alternative neo-pagan lifestyles.
At the main festival grounds by the maypoles (we ended up needing a lot of them, due to tourist demand) the atmosphere was kept very family friendly, even after the big Beltane bonfire was lit up that evening. I kept my constables there to keep the entertainment 'G' rated. For the more mature and hard-core visiting Wiccans, another Beltane bonfire was lit up well out of sight up in the woods, more or less invitation only, featuring lots of more graphic phallic symbols than just maypoles, and the attire was rather 'clothing optional'. This fire festival is supposedly a traditional time of lustiness and fertility, but everyone was given warning to keep the public celebration 'R' rated and just enjoy the big fire and a joyful (and symbolic only) courtship between the May Queen and the God of the Forest. I ended up having to spend most of my night here, to keep the mood pleasant and not too amorous for those that had enjoyed too much sacred wine or mead and felt like indulging in a rather more explicit demonstration of their love of nature out in public.
If this wasn't quite enough, supposedly somewhere else in the woods, Judi was also conducting a very private ritual for women only, to better harness the energy of the 'sacred feminine' within themselves. I only heard about this event right after it was over and with the benefit of long years of experience and self-control, I only just barely managed to keep my mouth shut and avoided making any of the dozen snarky comments that passed through my mind. From the smiles on some of the women's faces that I saw after leaving that ceremony, I'm pretty sure that their rites weren't quite all 'R' rated or innocent. One of my female constables who did attend just glared at me and told me that I had a very dirty mind ... and that I was really just jealous because I couldn't watch.
Anyway, the fiscal takings were good. It was just like having two Halloweens in a single year, financially, and at the next open town council meeting the motion to approve an identical festival next spring was nearly unanimously approved. The town had upgraded its carnival ride collection a few years ago and getting an extra big payday for them would keep the town really rolling in the green. We normally keep the carnival sideshow up and running on weekends for most of the rest of the year for the odd visitors, mostly for relatively local couples looking for something to do for a date night, or amusement for their kids, but during most weekends things around here tended to be pretty boring. After May Day, our usual trickle of weekend tourists became a bit more plentiful and it was only a rare rainy weekend that the midway lights weren't lit with at least a few dozen visitors, and the big ferris wheel slowly turning with its bright neon lights casting a comforting glow over the entire town.
With the last of the bonfire frolicking done for the night, I finally made it to the comforts of my own soft and warm bed sometime after 4 a.m. with the hope and expectation of sleeping in late the next morning, until the sun was nice and warm ... like about noon-time. Instead, right at the stroke of eight, the telephone rang and kept ringing until I stumbled out of bed to answer it. It was Judi, all bright eyed and bushy-tailed, and eager for our long overdue hike into the mountains.
Today was most auspicious for the journey, she assured me.
I assured her that I was a nasty rat-bastard if I didn't get a minimum of at least six hours sleep ... and that a full eight would be better. She ignored me and somehow I found myself getting dressed.