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They said I was a witch.

What would they know?

I lived off the land, like anyone with any common sense to spare would have. I learned from the indigenous people which plants to harvest and which to avoid, and how to trap the wandering rabbit and track the wild deer. I gathered roots and berries in the woods, and I never went hungry, though there were some lean times. The others starved because they clung to old beliefs that didn’t fit the new world and refused to touch anything that came out of the forest. It wasn’t my fault they withered, but they blamed me for it.

I liked my solitude. I built my one-room home well outside the town, near the trees and the river that sustained me. I planted a modest garden of herbs and wildflowers and watched the bees and butterflies come. I had no need for town gossip or gatherings or Sunday school. To the townsfolk, this made me different — an outsider, though I’d traveled with them many months to this place and had known them all from birth.

I didn’t marry. There was no man with a claim on my heart, and why should I join myself to another for comfort or convenience? I needed no man to take care of me — I could do that myself. Somehow, this made me dangerous.

I was an unmarried woman of childbearing age, living alone near the woods, consorting with the natives and prospering while others went hungry. Of course they thought I was a witch.


Instead of seeking my help or heeding my advice, they shunned me. They whispered and talked. When I traveled into town to trade, I was refused. When I tried to bargain, I was turned away. When I walked down the dusty roads, mothers clutched their children, as if I would snatch the babes away and eat them on the spot.

I stopped going into town. It wasn’t worth the trouble. I could forage for what I needed, make my own or go without. I didn’t need the townsfolk, and they obviously didn’t need me.

But they couldn’t leave me alone.

I was happy. Content in my quiet life. That was perhaps the final straw for them.

They came at night. There was a full moon rising over the treetops. I saw the line of bright orange torches marching down the hill to my home.

I knew what was coming. I knew what they whispered about me. Witch. There was only one way to deal with a witch.

I’m ashamed to say I ran. I sped into the woods, hoping to find sanctuary in the trees. But the townsfolk were more clever than I gave them credit for. They sent men ahead to surround my cabin. They were armed with clubs. They made sure I didn’t escape.

They caught me fleeing. They beat me, splintering bones and bruising flesh until I couldn’t run or stand or crawl, until all I could do was curl into a ball and wait for the next blow to fall.

Eventually, they stopped. I was surrounded by grim, dirty-faced peasants. I was forced to watch through bloodied eyes as they built my funeral pyre. I was lashed to a stake and ordered to confess to my imagined crimes as they held flames at my feet.

I stayed silent. I burned anyway.

They razed my land and tossed my charred corpse in the river. There was no bright light for me at my death — no door to take me to the next life. There was no peace for me. I lingered near the water, forgotten but not gone.

For years, no one came to my riverbank. Perhaps the townsfolk feared it after what they’d done. But when the black scars finally faded from the land, they wandered onto my property and into my water to swim and bath and drink.

One night, a man came under the light of the full moon. His face was familiar. I remember it contorted with hate as a heavy club reigned down blows upon me. Forgotten anger filled me. Why should this man enjoy life while I was trapped in unending death, chained to the world and unable to savor it?

He saw me on the riverbank. His eyes went wide and his face went pale as I stalked toward him. He fell backward into the river. The water swirled around my knees as I followed him and watched as the plants tangled around him and took him under. He didn’t come up again.

I’m not sorry for his death. Or the ones that followed.

There were many who came after that day. I let some of them pass unharmed — the ones who’d followed in fear, the ones who were, in the whole, not so bad.

Others fell to their watery deaths. The bullies, the scaremongers, the men who beat me. I didn’t get them all. There were too many of them for me to exact my revenge in a single generation.

The only good thing about being a ghost is that I have plenty of time. Maybe I didn’t get the man who lit the fire that night. But I took his grandson from him, a little bastard who wandered too close to my shores. My fingers wrapped around his throat as he thrashed in the watery weeds. Maybe I didn’t kill the woman who spat in my face as the flames took me. But I watched as the current dragged her beloved daughter away.

There are some who remain seared in my memory, men and women I haven’t punished yet, despite the many years I’ve haunted these banks. Their time will come. Sooner or later, someone with their blood and black hearts will appear, and I will have my retribution. Perhaps, when they’re all dead, I’ll no longer be trapped here, watching time slowly pass.

I’m not a witch. But I am a ghost. And sooner or later, they’ll all pay for that.

The creature drifted down a dark alley. He was a shadow, a fragment of a thought, a flicker at the edge of someone’s vision.

Once, he had been a man. But that was so long ago that the creature no longer remembered what it was like to walk the world as a human, to feel the heat of the sun or the cool kiss of the breeze. Pieces of memories would float through his mind on occasion — a warm smile, a tinkling laugh, the sweet smell of fresh-baked bread. He couldn’t remember names or faces, and had long ago stopped caring that he’d forgotten.

Darker memories held more sway — screams and the stench of blood, piercing pain and chilling fear. Those lingered and blended together so he could no longer tell if the blood and screams and pain were his or his victims’.

The creature didn’t know what had turned him into the monster he now was. Maybe a vampire had drained him dry and left his shell-shocked soul wandering the earth. Maybe the devil had taken his soul and his carcass had been left behind to prey on others. Maybe he’d simply died and hadn’t wanted to leave the shackles of the world.

He didn’t know. He didn’t care.

He moved through the alleys and streets unseen, though he wasn’t stealthy. He moved boldly, without fear. What did he have to fear? Nothing and no one could harm him now. No one could touch him. No one could see him. No one could stop him. It was exhilarating — and empowering.

He didn’t know why he stalked the streets, searching for a victim, hunting. Maybe he did it to survive. To live. To endure. To remind others, though they couldn’t see him, that he still existed.

Whatever the reason, he liked it. He liked the thrill of moving among the humans, of picking out a target and preying on their fear and doubt. He liked their pain, their pleading, their terror. He liked bringing them their death.

The streets were full tonight. It was a holiday. He didn’t know which one. He didn’t keep track of months or years, and he’d long ago stopped feeling the changing of the seasons, the cold bite of winter or the boiling heat of summer. He couldn’t even tell if it was day or night. The world around him was always a silvery, monochrome haze. Time meant little to him now.

He moved smoothly through the crowds, scanning faces that looked much the same to him. He was looking for something — a shiver, a flicker of fear, a twitch of the cheek — something to tell him his prey knew he was there. Something to tell him who his next victim was.

He found his target. A young man jumped as the creature brushed past.

The hunt was on.


Tim had a beer in his hand and one in his belly. He wasn’t buzzed yet. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be. He wasn’t 22 anymore, after all. He mostly drank now because he liked the rich flavor of a good brew.

He glanced down at his watch and sighed. It was still early on Halloween. He’d reluctantly promised to go out with his friends — who were well on their way to epic hangovers — and put in appearances at a few parties. He wasn’t sure if he would make it. He thought wistfully of going home, curling up on his couch and watching TV with his cats.

“I’m getting old,” he muttered.

No one heard him. The crowd was thick and noisy, and he’d already lost sight of his buddies as they’d stumbled from one bar to the next.

Would they notice if he just slipped away? His friends would give him hell if they found out he’d bailed to watch reruns on Netflix. But at the rate they were going, none of them would make it into work the next day anyway.

He made up his mind, dumped his half-finished beer in the nearest trash can and headed for his car. It was only a few blocks away. He’d be tucked in at home and munching popcorn with Hamilton and Lilac before anyone knew he was gone.

He’d taken just a few steps when he felt something ice-cold brush his arm and saw a dark, formless shadow flicker at the corner of his eye. He jerked away and spun around, looking for whatever had touched him — but there was nothing.

“You’re being silly,” he said to himself. “Spooked by the atmosphere, that’s all.”

Still, he walked a little faster. He silently cursed himself along the way, but he felt something — some nameless dread curling up in his belly. He glanced over his shoulder. Nothing. Just milling crowds, laughing and drinking. Perfectly normal. What was he —

It flashed in front of him, a dark creature, flickering and indistinct, looming, reaching —

Tim stumbled over the curb and fell into the street. The shape vanished. A few people laughed, assuming he was drunk. He wished he was.

He looked around, frantically searching for — what the hell had it been? Whatever it was, it was gone.

He got to his feet. His knees were shaking. His palms were scraped and raw. The stinging pain brought him back to himself. The pain was real. The pavement was real. The crowds, the people, the cool air and stench of spilled beer — those things were real. That other thing wasn’t. It couldn’t be. It had no substance, no shape. It was just a fuzzy figment of his imagination.

He needed to get home and wind down. He’d be fine once he was away from the buzzing party.

He headed for his car. He didn’t bother to take his time or slow his pace. He hurried along the sidewalk, pushing through the crowd, muttering a vague “excuse me” or “sorry” as he went.

The farther away from the hive of activity he got, the more his anxiety grew. The fear was rock-hard in his stomach, spreading icy fingers through his limbs, latching on and refusing to let go. His hands were shaking, and his legs were turning to rubber beneath him.

The dark thing danced at the edge of his vision, flashing and fading, pulsing.

Tim ran.

He was just a block away. He cut down a deserted alley strung with orange and purple lights. He’d come this way dozens of times. He was close to safety now. He could see his car in the parking lot. He fumbled for his keys and dropped them.

Cursing, crying, he bent down.

When he looked up, it was there, standing bold and tall in front of him. It was black and smoky, fuzzy at the edges, its shape vaguely, grotesquely humanoid.

Tim couldn’t stand. He couldn’t run. He couldn’t move or scream. Cold crept through him, and he shook uncontrollably as he knelt on the ground, the gravel biting into his knees. The creature stepped forward.

“What … what are you?” Tim said — or tried to say. His throat choked around the words.

The creature didn’t pause as it towered over him. It reached out. As darkness swept through Tim, he heard a horrible, raspy voice in his head.

“I’m you.”


Tim stalked down the street. He was a shadow, a half-forgotten thought, a flicker at the edge of someone’s vision. He was darkness. He was death.

He was hunting.

The witch was lonely, so she decided to make a friend. It was a special talent of hers, though her parents and neighbors didn’t quite know what to make of it.

When she was five, she made a friend for her elderly neighbor. The old woman loved sitting out in her garden, watching the butterflies and hummingbirds flit about among the colorful blooms. The witch fashioned a butter-hummer for the woman — a thumb-sized, peacock-colored hummingbird with the wings of a majestic Monarch butterfly. The woman was delighted (or so the witch thought), and great kaleidoscopes of butter-hummers still migrated through the old woman’s garden every year.

When the witch was nine, she made a friend for a schoolmate. The girl was new in town, and the witch wanted to make her feel welcome. When she overheard that the girl’s favorite animal was a frog, the witch knew exactly what the perfect companion would be — she created a little frog that laughed when it hopped and turned pumpkin orange when it was happy (or very, very wet).

Her schoolmate, however, ran away screaming when presented with the orange amphibian, and the witch received a stern lecture from the principle on tampering with nature. Of course, the principle hadn’t been able to keep a straight face through the lecture, since the frog had been hopping and laughing the whole time, and the entire exercise was rendered utterly ineffective when the principle adopted the little creature and took it home to live in his koi pond with a fish of similar hue.

When the witch was fourteen, she made a friend for a boy she liked. The boy was a young baseball prodigy, so the girl created a bat that fetched baseballs and turned glow-in-the-dark green whenever it heard the sound of wood smacking against cowhide-coated rubber. The boy thought it was cool — until he switched sports to soccer and the bat proved to be a poor goalkeeper.

When the boy returned the (slightly worse for wear) bat to the witch, she passed it to a retired farmer, a longtime friend of her family. She was one of the few in town who knew the old man had been a minor league ballplayer in his prime, and she suspected he would enjoy his new companion. He did. His little bat shagged balls long into the night, and when the creature unexpectedly began to breed and pass its unusual genes along, the old man razed his wheat field, put up batting cages and charged the townsfolk three bucks a head to play ball with the colony of bats. His business boomed, and the bats were happy.

Meanwhile, the boy proved to be a terrible soccer player, and he was forced to pay for the privilege of playing with his discarded bat.

The witch had made dozens of friends throughout her life, but always for others, as gifts. What kind of friend would she want for herself?

Something cuddly and warm for cool autumn nights. Something with a sense of humor. Something that could accompany her on her adventures into the woods — something with teeth and a keen sense of smell and a great deal of courage. A little bit of brawn, a little bit of brain, a great deal of balance.

Humming to herself, she got to work.

The trickiest part of making a friend was gathering the ingredients at just the right time. She started in summer, crafting her future friend’s fur out of teal fleece on the day of the solstice to gather as much warmth as possible. She could have used real fur, but she wasn’t a monster — and she had allergies.

She harvested eyes from a cat in the pitch black of a new moon so her friend would have especially keen sight; the eyes were purple, and the cat was stuffed, but they would do well enough.

She took ears from a bat — a willing donation from a member of the glow-in-the-dark colony, made in exchange for two perfectly formed, silver satellite dishes.

She used artificial monkey paws scrounged from an antique shop for hands, and borrowed a raccoon tail from an old Davy Crockett cap. Her friend didn’t really need a tail, but it was cute.

She used her old K’Nex construction toys for bones (they would be easy to replace if her friend ever broke them) and carefully assembled a skeleton on the fall equinox to give her friend a special sense of balance.

The muscles were tricky. Rubber bands only worked so well, after all. So she added steel springs for strength and silly putty for flexibility.

She struck gold when she found a pile of discarded toys at the town’s Goodwill. She found an electronic voice box among the rubbish, and it was in perfectly good condition — or at least it was, after she added a little magic and a hint of fairy dust gathered under a full moon.

Finally, her friend was ready.

Now she just needed a soul. This was the part that required the most patience, and the most luck. Coaxing a lost soul into her new friend’s body wouldn’t be easy. There weren’t many wandering spirits, after all, who would accept such a special frame.

She waited for All Hallows’ Eve, when the spirits were out and about, roaming the human world in force.

She cast a circle — salt, with just a hint of sugar, a trick she’d learned from her grandmother — and laid out crystals at the compass points, one each for guidance, luck, strength and wisdom.

She murmured a few quiet words, asking the world to send her a ready, willing soul to fill the body of her little friend.

And she waited.

For a long time, nothing happened. But she sat and hung on to her stubborn hope. Magic, especially of this sort, wasn’t easy or quick.

It was just past the witching hour when something finally happened. She heard laughter. A little orange frog hopped into her meadow to keep her company during her vigil. The sound of soft wings told her the butter-hummers were flying nearby, and she could see the glowing bodies of the bat colony as they hung in the trees.

Finally, the fairies crept into the meadow, quiet and almost invisible as they sat among the leaves and grass.

“A soul comes,” an old fairy announced.

The clearing went silent and watchful. The witch held her breath, waiting to see if the soul would accept her little friend’s body.

A few fingers twitched. The big, glowing bat ears turned this way and that, picking up the soft sounds of the frog’s laughter as it hopped closer. The ringed tail wagged, and, finally, the body drew a breath.

It was alive!

The witch smiled as her friend sat up. It looked down at itself, and its big eyes widened in surprise. It looked up at her and wagged its tail again.

“This is … unexpected,” it said, testing its voice. The fairy dust had done its work — the voice was soft and smooth and rich, with just the barest hint of buzzing electronics.

“Oh, dear,” the witch said. “You’re not displeased? You don’t have to stay if you don’t wish it.”

The creature blinked and looked down at its body again — teal fur and mismatched paws and unusual proportions, all carefully calibrated for climbing trees and running through fields, chasing bugs and sniffing down herbs.

“No, this suits me, I think. It’s certainly a … colorful body. It should be an adventure, at least, to see what I can do.”

“Oh, good!” the witch said, grinning. “What do I call you, friend?”

“No one has ever asked me that before,” the creature said. Its brow furrowed above its purple eyes as it thought. “You know, I’ve always liked the name Seymour.”

“Seymour. Yes, I like that,” the witch said. “Welcome, Seymour. I do hope you’ll be my friend.”

“It seems I was made for it,” Seymour said. “What do we do now?”

They spent the rest of All Hallows’ Eve wandering the woods. Seymour chatted with the fairies and laughed with the frog and learned the ways of baseball from the bats.

And for the rest of their very long lives, the witch and Seymour were friends and went everywhere together. They scrambled up trees and scampered through meadows and snuggled up together at night next to a glowing fire. Eventually, the little village got over the shock of a teal, cat-like creature with purple eyes and bat’s ears and perfect enunciation.

The witch, of course, never found her little friend strange at all. And though she made many more friends for others, there was never another quite as special as Seymour.

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