Dirty Harry PotterbyStultus©
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.