The Last Ride
by Paul Melniczek
She lifted up her head and peered outside through the frosted window. Wrinkled eyes gazed into the bright sky, and a smile came over the old woman’s face when she saw the full moon, shining away in all it’s harvest glory, a perfect background setting for All Hallow’s Eve.
A loud purring reached her ears as a black cat leaped up on the table next to the rocking chair she was sitting in.
"Yes, my sweets. Isn’t that a pretty night we have in store for us? Old man moon looks down on us with a wink in his eye tonight."
The cat stared at her with deep green eyes, attention fixed on every word.
"You know what this night means, don’t you, Trickster?" The cat let out a soft meow, listening to his master.
"It is the passing of an age, that is what. Many long years, happy memories, but there is an ending to every story, good and bad. Ol’ Madge here has seen it all, yes I have."
The old woman pushed herself up from the chair, one gnarled hand stroking the silken fur of Trickster. There was a creaking noise as old bones cracked within the ancient body, stiff joints groaning in protest at the effort made by her to straighten up.
"Ah, this craggy old girl ain’t what she used to be. Need a dose of the ointment before I go, that’ll fix me for a little while."
Madge walked over towards a large oaken trunk that was filled with an assortment of herbs, spices, animal parts, jarred collections of insects, packaged powders, and numerous other odds and ends. They were the tools of her trade.
Rummaging through the contents, she found a sachet containing some brown colored leaves, and when she opened it a sweet odor wafted outwards.
"Hmm, this will do fine." The crone went over to a wooden cabinet which had vials of liquid scattered about the shelves. She grabbed a tube with a bubbly fluid inside with a purple tinge to it, and then poured the leaves in.
Wispy curls of vapor rose up, and the old woman drank deeply.
A look of revulsion crossed her face at the bitter taste, but she shook it off.
"Not the fountain of youth, but it bestows on me a glimmer of strength, and that is all I need." She smacked her dry lips together, and smiled with glee.
Madge hobbled over to the great stone fireplace that warmed the cottage, and a black cauldron was resting above the burning flames. A green liquid boiled away in a frenzy, fat bubbles oozing from the surface. She stirred the mixture with a metal ladle.
"Double, bubble, toil and trouble!"
"Double, bubble, toil and trouble!’
Cackling with delight, the old woman churned the foul broth with renewed vigor. The cauldron hissed in answer, and the brew began to fizzle over.
"Ha ha, that’s it. A ghastly potion for a ghostly night!"
Madge nodded to herself, and the flames danced before her, casting lurid shadows on the walls of the cottage.
The image behind the cat grew in size, reaching the proportions of a great beast which was many times the feline’s actual body shape.
Trickster growled, his dark mane bristling. The master made a gesture in the air, and the front door burst open as the black cat sprang into the night, the transformation beginning to take place. A howl echoed from the woods outside, and Madge shouted in response, the language old and archaic.
"Rejoice in the wild, my pet. The night calls. Until the sun comes up, when you must return."
A gust of wind blasted against the cottage, slamming the door shut with a loud crash. The old woman’s wizened face had a trace of sadness on it, and she let out a deep sigh.
"It is almost time, must make haste."
Madge opened the closet and reached inside, tenderly bringing out a worn garb, black as the night. A tear trickled from the corner of an eye, moistening the callused cheek beneath.
"So many years, where have they all gone? How will I be able to face the next one, knowing that my time is done?"
She pulled the raiment tightly about herself, cherishing the feel of the familiar outfit. The cloak gave her comfort and security.
"Such little time, and too many things to fill it with, ‘tis a pity."
There was an upper shelf inside the closet, and from this she brought out a rumpled black hat, pointed at the top in the shape of a narrow cone.
"Hee hee hee," she chuckled. "A pointed cone for a crooked crone." She set the hat on her head, and brushed back the strands of silver hair that lay tangled down to her shoulders. She began to feel much younger and stronger, but it was only wishful thinking. Potions could give her a teasing of both, but that was it.
Madge crossed to the other side of the room, wooden floor boards creaking underneath her musty black boots. The heels clicked softly with her passing.
A reading desk sat in the corner, and a dusty tome sprawled along the top. Strange words and symbols were etched onto the crinkled pages, the lettering written in blood. She leafed through until she found the proper incantation, then closed the book with a snap.
"Long ago, I could recite nearly every line of verse in half that script. But now....." The old woman shook her head, again being overcome with remorse.
"More’s the pity, old hag, I’ve had my turn. The wheels of time roll on without stopping, and my moment has arrived to step aside. Only fond memories, no regrets."
The old woman’s gaze wandered the trappings of the cottage, her domain for countless years. Yes, fate had treated her well, there was no denial.
"And now, my friend, who has served me so well these many years. Will you answer the summons yet again, on this night of all nights?
Madge spread her arms wide in appeal, pale yellow eyes closed in concentration. The wind picked up outside, and tree branches scratched against the window panes, bent stick arms moving in wooden animation, responding to the surge of dark power that was building within the cottage.
There was a flash of brilliance radiating from a section of stone next to the fireplace, and a secret panel was revealed. From the compartment emerged a long broom, stark in opaque blackness, levitating towards the old woman.
"Ha ha ha, come to me! It is our time again. The sisters await!"
The broom continued floating, and it came within the crone’s eager grasp as it throbbed with power, pulsating with diabolical energy.
Madge held the broom up triumphantly, and opened the front door. A strong breeze was blowing, and fallen leaves covered the mossy earth. Sinister figures crouched within the surrounding shadows, lurking among the trees.
It was Halloween night, and spirits of the nights had awakened in unholy celebration.
Madge sat astride the enchanted broom, and up she flew to meet with her fellow sisters of the coven. This was her last time as the coven leader, and a new one would be sworn in this Hallow’s Eve.
She gazed up at the awaiting sky, spotting others of her wicked brethren. It was Halloween night, and for the last time, into that magical night, rode the form of the witch, on her last moonlight ride.