Ivy reached for her walkie-talkie but it was too far away and she couldn’t stop staring at the black shadow that was slowly moving towards her. Its eyes were fixed on her, and even though it looked like a small creature, she was certain that monsters had powers beyond her own imagination. It might be super strong and be able to throw her metres into the air, catch her in its jaws and swallow her whole, like those pythons that can eat entire sheep in one gulp! It might have laser vision and zap her into a pile of dust in a nanosecond. Or it might be able to wipe her memory, making her forget she ever saw it...
‘Please don’t eat me! Please don’t eat me!’ she whispered into the dark as the creature crept closer and closer. ‘Please don’t –’
‘Meeeeeoooowww!’ The black shadow jumped into the moonlight to reveal the pointed ears and whiskers of... a cat! But this was not any ordinary cat – it was the angry all-black cat that lived in the abandoned house next door. It often tried to scare Ivy and Maggie as they walked past every morning by hissing at them from the overgrown shrubbery or snagging their school jumpers with its claws. This was not the first time Ivy had found the cat in her room, and each time it gave her the heebie-jeebies.
‘Ramshackle!’ she said crossly, her shoulders slumping. Ramshackle sneaked out from under the bed and strutted over to the door, meowing, a purple gem on its collar shimmering in the moonlight. Then it turned to hiss at Ivy. Ivy dusted off her neat pink-and-purple-striped pyjamas and ran over to the door, quickly opening it so the cat could get out. Then she grabbed her walkie-talkie again, raced over to the window and pulled it up.
Maggie, in blue-striped pyjamas, was at her window, holding her green walkie-talkie. ‘Was that stupid cat in your room again? Over.’
Ivy waved her walkie-talkie back, then they both watched Ramshackle, having left Ivy’s house the same way it got in, sneak into the garden of the house between theirs and disappear into the tangle of overgrown greenery. Several crows cawed and fled from the foliage in a furious flap of wings.
Like the rest of the villagers, Maggie and Ivy mostly ignored the house between theirs. Hokum House, people called it. In fact, the house was part of the centuries-old legend of the Crowood Witch, and when the village held its Festival for the Twelve every blue moon, Ivy and Maggie had to fight through crowds simply to get to their own front doors, as so many people came to see it. They would lay flowers and candles in a ring round the house, to remember those who had been taken by the witch.
It wasn’t a particularly happy story, and it certainly didn’t have a happy ending, but the people of Crowood Peak enjoyed keeping this important piece of local history alive. Maggie loved the festival – she couldn’t get enough of the Legend – but Ivy just liked the decorations people made for the occasion. The next festival was coming up, and she was looking forward to it.
The house was so covered in moss, vines and birds’ nests that it barely resembled a house anymore. You could sort of see the windows if you got close enough, but only the bravest kids ever got that close. Even around festival time, Ivy and Maggie tried not to talk about the Crowood Witch, who supposedly used to live there. Ivy didn’t want to talk about the witch because she didn’t believe in witches, and Maggie didn’t want to talk about the witch because she did believe in witches – and was really quite scared of them!
So it was quite a shock when Maggie suddenly did mention witches.
‘Can you see that?’ she asked in a whisper. A few crows had landed on the old broken fence in front of Hokum House. They cocked their heads to one side and peered up the street in the same direction Maggie was now looking.
‘You didn’t say “over”. Over,’ Ivy said teasingly.
‘Ivy, I’m... I’m serious.’ Even though Maggie was far away and Ivy couldn’t see her expression, she could tell by Maggie’s voice that something was up. ‘Someone’s approaching the gate.’
Maggie was looking up the street, past Ivy’s house, so Ivy couldn’t see what she was looking at yet. But she could hear a faint clip-clopping of heeled boots against the pavement, which got louder and louder as a figure in a hooded cloak walked into view. The hood came to a curiously long point that zigzagged down the person’s back. Their face was covered mostly by fabric, but in the light of the moon Ivy could just make out lips painted the colour of ripe plums. This mysterious figure had a book held open in one black-gloved hand and a large black leather bag in the other.
‘She looks like a... a...’ Maggie gulped hard. ‘A witch.’
‘Don’t even say it, Maggie. There’s no such thing as witches,’ Ivy said quietly. ‘Besides, I doubt she’ll be able to get much further. That gate has been rusted shut for forever; she won’t have much luck opening... it...’
Ivy stopped talking as the cloaked figure waved their hand over the latch on the gate and read something out loud from the book they were holding – though Ivy and Maggie couldn’t make out what was being said – and then the gate did the most peculiar thing. It trembled under the figure’s fingertips and, as it shuddered, shed its rust. The crows cawed and scattered as all the flakes of peeling paint that had fluttered away in the wind now came back on the breeze and re-attached themselves to the gate, until it looked as good as new. When it was a glossy black colour once again it swung open without so much as a creak.
The figure closed the book and gave a single nod, satisfied with their work. But the weird goings-on didn’t stop there. As the person walked up the long pathway, passing the girls’ windows, every piece of each cracked paving stone rearranged itself like a puzzle, the cracks glowing bright white and then disappearing altogether, until the broken pathway was no longer broken. Each stone mended itself in this fashion before the person’s boots made contact, so they had a perfect path to the door of Hokum House.
The person flicked through the book once again, and then Ivy and Maggie could both hear more muttering – although it sounded like gibberish – and the cloaked figure began to wave one hand high above their head. With a flick of the wrist, another even more peculiar thing began to happen. Bit by bit the house began to repair itself. Weeds and vines started to shrink away from the brickwork; shattered windows became whole and sparkling clean; the bats fled as the roof fixed itself; and the front door swung open with a satisfying thunk of the lock. It was as if a hundred invisible people were mending the house, except Ivy and Maggie couldn’t see a soul.
Finally, the visitor set down their leather bag, slid the book inside and then reached up and removed the hood of their cloak. Ivy and Maggie both gasped as a cascade of bright blonde hair tumbled down a woman’s back. Her skin was whiter than the moon that hung above the house, and seemed to glow in the same celestial way as she turned her face towards it and closed her eyes. She stood there for a moment, basking in the light as if she could feel its warmth, just like Ivy and Maggie could feel the heat of the sun on a summer’s day.
Ivy was so enraptured watching this stranger she didn’t notice her walkie-talkie slowly slip out of her hand until it was too late. It clattered to her bedroom floor and broke the silence of the calm night. The woman’s eyes snapped open and up to Ivy’s bedroom window. Ivy ducked down quickly, but not before seeing that the woman’s eyes were a bright luminescent purple, which cut through the dark like a blade of amethyst.
‘Ivy, come in! I repeat, Ivy, come in.’