Dirty Harry PotterbyStultus©
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. I had really hoped to enjoy a late sleep-in, since the partying at the adult-themed bonfire had gone on late into the night, but never argue with a lovely bra-less witch who had other ideas for your day. I could feel her glaring at me over the phone and she flatly told me come pick her up in fifteen minutes. Trust me... I could sense that glare... and it nearly quite woke me up entirely!
In my eagerness to spend an entire uninterrupted day with her I think I dressed for the hike and made it over to Witch House in about ten minutes flat. There was no answer when I knocked on the front door, so I walked around to bang on the backdoor... and received a very pleasant unexpected surprise.
Technically, old Ellie had always called the small lake behind her house the duck pond, and in season it usually was a popular place to find ducks, but this morning I found something splashing in that cold water that was much more pleasant to view. Judi was still taking a morning swim in that frigid water and didn't seem even slightly concerned that I could see her nude body. She just smiled at me and slowly stepped out of the pond, walking without hurry or care towards her towel and some clothes she had laid out on the grass. I knew the water was ice cold from the snow melt, since the water in the entire valley stayed frigid all year around, and the way her nipples poked out just confirmed this. They were long and extremely rigid, enough so that you could hang up a suit on a clothes hanger on them. Just looking at her was making other things on me equally rigid and as I turned away to give her some privacy (and adjust myself a bit) she laughed.
"You can look if you want to. A good witch never has much if any modesty and I'm proud of what the goddess has given me... and from the look at the front of your jeans you don't have much to be ashamed of either."
"If I'm too early, I can come back later." I offered while turning to face her again, but with my pants now slightly more comfortable. If she wanted to play exhibitionist, then my playing prude would only give her something to tease me about. She was already way ahead of me on points and I'm not really a prude anyway. Besides, I'd just spent the entire night watching naked people singing and dancing around a big bonfire.
"Isn't that water a bit cold? Wouldn't a hot shower in the house feel a lot nicer?"
"Perhaps, but I prefer this. It makes me feel closer to nature and the cold stimulates the spirit, if not the body."
"The whole 'sky-clad' thing?"
"Partially, I do admit I hate wearing clothes. That's really the worst part about having apprentices... for obvious legal reasons I can't let them see me walking about with my tits and ass flopping all about when I'm communing with the spirits. So I have to be prudent. Today they're at school and except for you, it's private here now. Sure you don't want to try out the waters? I can wait."
I bet she could, but I declined. That cold water would just give me an even worse case of blue balls.
It was only about a twenty minute drive to take us up in the valley near the Bernard farm where we could park and hike up the hills from there. Jeff Bernard worked the dairy farm alone; his wife had left him some years back, taking their two children with her. The farm house was a bit of a local curiosity, with all of its lower windows heavily barred with iron, and the dairy barn itself was secured up at night probably tighter than the gold at Fort Knox. Some neighbors said that Jeff kept late hours and often spent nights on the front porch with a hunting rifle close at hand. He had never spoken a word of what he was apparently deathly afraid of and even the slightest mention of ghostly giant cats or other murderous ghosts would freeze his face hard and stop him from speaking with you at all. Ghosts or not, by sunset every cow on the farm was locked into the barn tight and secure.
Sometimes, like today, it just made me wonder what Jeff knew that I didn't. I checked my .44 Magnum in my hip holster and stuffed a handful of reloads into my pocket. Then for good measure I also took a brief look at my small .22 automatic in my left ankle holster. It was a carry-over from my SFPD days but I've never needed to use it, except for shooting a rabbit or two. A .44 Special slug would otherwise just tear up most of the meat.
"You won't need those." She gently suggested in a quiet off-hand voice.
"Hopefully not," I replied, "but they're both coming along for the trip anyway. Worst case, there could be an extremely hungry bear just coming out of hibernation that might decide that we'd both make a good first meal." She shrugged and put on her backpack. From my angle, it looked fairly stuffed full, but I didn't bother to ask what she was toting... it was probably something weird and I decided that I'd just rather not know.
I had a small pack myself, but it was strictly limited to essential survival and rescue supplies. A GPS emergency beacon, six flares, first aid kit, 30 feet of rope, a flashlight with spare batteries, a pair of extra charged batteries for my cell phone and police radio, survival knife, water purification pills, dehydrated food for three days and a couple of fist-fulls of granola and candy bars, mostly Baby Ruth's. Yum. Oh, and more .22 and .44 Special ammo. There is nothing like being prepared!
I always kept this bag in the back of the jeep ready to go, waiting for the next rescue of a lost hiker or misguided tourist and I've needed a few of these items a bit more often than I would have liked... especially the candy bars. They're a perfect snack for hard climbing in shitty terrain, but combined with my all too frequent consumption of cheeseburgers at Karin's Kountry Kitchen I was starting to get a little paunchy. I'd be getting more exercise today, though!
As the crow flies, it really wasn't much more than a mile and half to get to the old witch's cabin halfway up the mountain near the upper reaches of Ghost Creek, but the trouble is that there is no really direct path to get there. Ravines, small rifts and gorges cut into the direct path nearly right away after the first hill or two is climbed getting there and unless you're at least half mountain goat there is no good direct path. The trees and underbrush also get thicker cutting visibility even on a good day to about ten yards. A careless or inexperienced hiker might soon get impatient and look for shortcuts, and then easily find themselves at the bottom of a gully of sharp rocks with a broken limb, or worse. There was a meandering old steep path, really nothing much more than a faint game trail that lead most of the way up to Spooky Hollow, a little sort of canyon about half way up the mountain. It was not a particularly direct route, or even easy to follow, but I'd made this trip more than a few times... even in the dark, and knew where to best guide our feet.