5

Samhain – Present Day

It is now the 21st century in the village of Port Gwyneth. Change has been slow but inevitable. Tracks have become roads, dwellings of wood are now buildings of whitewashed granite. A buzz, imperceptible to the human ear, pervades. Electrical energy. Cables, made up of bundles of optical fibres, each one a glass strand no thicker than a human hair, lie buried deep beneath the land and spread out under the ocean. Pulses of light carry text, voices and images across the Atlantic in less than a thirtieth of a second.

On one side of the cove, the stones remain standing. On the other promontory, there is a relatively new addition; a landmark Art Deco hotel. When built, only the wealthy could afford to holiday in this haven, but, as the automobile became more affordable, tourists began to flock here like migrating birds. The hotel has fallen into disrepair, its four storeys of white reinforced concrete surrounded by scaffolding.

Underneath a grey and heavy sky, few lights can be seen along the Quay, and the streets are quiet. A lone dog walker, an old man, walks the labyrinth of cobbled streets. Lost in thought, he considers the changes wrought on the village during the decades of his long life.

He no longer lives in one of the old, quaint cottages that tumble over each other down narrow streets to the waterside. They were ramshackle back when he was a child. He and other fishing families, were glad to escape those small, damp dwellings. They moved up to the top of the hill. To larger, warmer, pebble-dashed council houses. With indoor toilets, and all the mod cons needed for an easier, more comfortable way of life.

Rich incomers, from wealthier parts of the country, were only too happy to buy the vacated cottages and modernise them. Few live in them all year round. Most are rented out during the Summer. A part time dream, the idyll of living by the sea. Somewhere to escape to. But living your real life there, one not shown on the pretty postcards, is not so easy.

The villagers now depend on the money the tourists spend. The quayside is a gaggle of shops, restaurants and pubs. The harbours still has a few fishing boats but now there are yachts, dinghies, and other leisure craft.

In the Summer, Port Gwyneth throngs with visitors and tourists. Wandering around, cluttering up the narrow streets – but as the colder weather arrives they disappear. One moment you’re battling though the crowds, the next you’re walking along empty streets buffeted by the wind alone. The car parks are empty. The cottages locked and dark. All that’s left are memories of laughing holidaymakers.

It’s October’s end, a few leaves on the trees are red and gold, most lie brown and mouldering beneath. The beginning of winter, the dark half of the year. Celebrated, this day, in the old pagan festival of Samhain.

High on the hill, above the village, the local secondary school becomes immersed in black, foreboding clouds. The sea pounds the cliffs and rain scours the treeless moor in the distance. A storm is coming, fierce enough to raise the dead, to unearth dark secrets. A girl is about to see her childhood abruptly end.

*

Mizzy Kemp, like all the Kemp girls who have lived in the village, suffers the taunts and jibes of her fellow pupils. Egghead, geek, know-it-all. For a change, this morning, she is not hiding in the lavatories to read a book. Sitting on the toilet, she shrugs at what she sees. A deep, brown, gunky-gross stain in her underwear. Not a shock, she has been expecting it. But, she sighs, did it have to be today? Today of all days? Her birthday, and the day Mr. Trenwith insists on doing his stupid lesson about the witch. Her mum had insisted on slipping a spare pair of knickers, and a sanitary pad, into her schoolbag. How had she known it would be today?

At least there won’t be any telltale signs to provoke further insults and cat-calls from her classmates.

When they began to bleed, some girls spent the entire day crying, not wanting to grow up. The only emotion Mizzy has is one of relief. So, I’m a woman now, she thinks. Good, it’s a start. Its great being a child when you’re small. But the older you get the more annoying it is having everyone telling you how to live your life. To have to dress in the same uniform every day, put up with all those ridiculous rules about behaviour. Not just the ones school invents, but also the ones her classmates live by. The way you should look, the things that should interest you. Not thinking of the world around them, just their own little lives. Who’s snogging who, what clothes are in fashion, and the amount of makeup you can get away with wearing.

Now she is a woman, she’s determined things will be different. And they will be, for everything in her life is about to change.

*

A group of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds, shuffle into the classroom, and slump into their chairs.

A short, narrow-shouldered young man, Mr. Trenwith, the history teacher, stands before them. He wears a tweed jacket with patches at the elbow. He hopes this attire makes him seem older, of greater academic stature. Although born in the village he feels his few years away, at University, have changed him. Given him a more metropolitan outlook than the locals.

‘Today,’ he intones to the class, ‘is Halloween. An opportunity for some harmless fun. Behind these modern celebrations, however, exist stories of old beliefs. Superstitions that led, over three hundred years ago, to a terrible event in this village. I’d like to discuss the lessons we can learn from the behaviour of our forebears. Mizzy, perhaps, you can tell us your feelings on this.’

Mizzy has been dreading this moment, being the centre of attention for the whole class. Flicking her long red hair over her shoulder, she looks up and feigns surprise, ‘Sir?’

‘Come on, Mizzy, it’s your family history, after all,’ replies Trenwith in exasperation. ‘You, of all people, must have an interesting perspective on what happened?’

‘Not really, Sir. I mean, people had irrational fears then, didn’t they? Believed in magic and all that, and then picked on someone they thought practised it. Sad and all that, but it was a long time ago.’

Zara Rowe, the golden tanned queen bee of the school, looks up from secretly checking her smartphone, ‘Sir, Sir,’ she interrupts.

‘Yes, Zara, do you have an opinion?’

‘Well, Sir,’ replies Zara, ‘I think she must have done something bad? No smoke without fire is there?’ She looks around, pointedly, at her posse of similarly bronzed followers.

Taking her cue, Kylie takes the chewing gum out of her mouth. Looking, knowingly, at Mizzy, she pipes up, ‘The Kemp’s have always been a bit weird.’

‘Yes, Zara is right,’ interrupts her boyfriend, Tyson. ‘Didn’t the old bag poison people and that?’

A voice, quietly interjects, ‘I doubt it.’

The class all turn to look at Oskar Ostrowski, the new boy who started at the school in September. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, he stands out from his classmates. Realising he is the focus of attention, he blushes.

‘Oskar,’ says Trenwith, interested in this contribution from the quietest child in the class. ‘You have a view?’

‘Yes, I do,’ replies Oskar, a little surprised at his own forwardness. ‘Maybe, they just made her a scapegoat, because she differed from them.’

‘What, like you? An emmet?’ smirks Zara.

‘Actually, Zara, Rowe is a Norman name,’ says Trenwith. ‘So, you see, even your family were once emmets!’

The class laughs, but rapidly fall silent as Zara gives them a vile look. Nobody messes with Zara Rowe, the Squire’s daughter.

Before the discussion proceeds, the Head teacher, Joyce Menhenick, bursts through the door, in a state of agitation.

‘Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Trenwith. I’m very concerned about the weather.’

Trenwith gazes out of the large panoramic windows. The broad sky is grey and getting darker.

‘Hmm, yes, take your point, could be in for a nasty storm.’

‘Yes, nothing forecast, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t turn quite serious. I think we should all get home before it sets in.’

A wave of relief passes over Mizzy. Talk of the long distant history of her family having caused her to sink further into her seat, in acute embarrassment. Who cares what happened hundreds of years ago?

*

‘What’s an emmet?’ asks Oskar, catching up with Mizzy, as they walk out of the school entrance, under the glowering sky.

‘A nickname villagers use for incomers,’ replies Mizzy. ‘Families on holiday, or who have moved here.’

‘Not very friendly, then.’

‘No. Considering most people make their money from them, a bit stupid, too.’

‘That Zara? Why’s she so stuck-up?’

‘Thinks she’s special, being the Squire’s daughter. Leader of the pack. As shallow as piss on concrete. Bunch of airheads. If it doesn’t involve pointing their phones at themselves, and pouting, they’re not interested.’

‘I feel sorry for them.’

‘Why?’

‘Because it’s not much of a life is it? When all that matters is looking good and fitting in?’

‘They’ve seen you every morning walking to school, with your nose in a book. Call you the Geek, you know, behind your back?’

‘I don’t care, I’d rather that than follow the crowd. We’re the same. We’re both different.’

‘What? Because I’me a green-eyed red head, and you’re a blue-eyed blonde? That hardly makes us the same does it?’

‘I don’t mean that we look different, although it hardly helps. I mean we don’t belong. We stand out too much in every way.’

Missy’s eyes flash, ‘What do you mean? You know nothing about me.’

‘You wear nice, but plain clothes. So I’m guessing you don’t care about dressing up for people.’

‘Right little Sherlock, aren’t you?’

‘Also, judging from your posts on Instagram, you’re more into the world around you than taking selfies.’

‘Private detective and online stalker? Must keep you busy,’ says Mizzy, though her tone is light.

‘You keep yourself to yourself. You might’ve lived here all your life, but I reckon you’re just as much an outsider as me. Is it the witch thing?’

Mizzy laughs, ‘Yeah, having a mum who thinks she’s a witch tends to make a kid a sitting duck in this place.’

‘You don’t believe in all that stuff, though, do you?’

‘No, of course not, but it doesn’t matter what I say. The family history and all that. Too good a target. What about you? How did you end up here?’

‘Dad’s restoring the Promontory Hotel.’

‘You’ll be going once he’s finished the building work?’

Oskar smiles, ‘Bit of a cliché, assuming dad’s a builder because of my surname?’

‘Sorry!’ Mizzy says immediately. ‘That was dumb of me.’

‘Don’t worry, you’re not the first. Dad’s an architect. Used to come here on holiday, from London, when he was a kid and loved it. Always talking about the rock-pooling, catching crabs and playing in the derelict old hotel.’

‘He bought it?’

‘Yeah. Always promised himself, if he ever had the money, he would return and restore it to its former glory. So here I am.’

‘It’s a wreck. It’ll cost him a fortune.’

‘Don’t I know it, mum and dad really stress about it. They’ve got a lot riding on it being a success.’

‘Do you miss being in London? I mean, it must seem pretty quiet here compared to a big city?’

‘It’s different. I don’t miss the crowds or the noise. I like all the space. But people were… well… more accepting in London than here maybe? Of outsiders I mean?’

Absorbed in conversation, without realising it, they walk straight into Zara and her posse.

They are dancing around in the snow while she records herself, and them, for her YouTube channel.

‘OMG, look at this snow!’ she exclaims holding her phone up in front of her. ‘It’s Halloween, but it’s like Christmas! Weird weather! Freezing! Don’t you forget to hit ‘like’ and ‘subscribe’, to follow moi, Zarella!’

She turns the phone towards Mizzy and Oskar as she and her groupies surround them, circling like sharks.

Zara, eyes blank and chilling, stares at them. ‘Oh, talking of Halloween, look who’s here, it’s the Witch with her new boyfriend, The Nerd!’

Mizzy replies, coldly, ‘He’s not my boyfriend.’

‘Not done a love spell on him yet then? Your witchcraft not up to it?’ laughs Zara.

‘No,’ replies Mizzy. ‘Perhaps, I should use bitchcraft, like you.’

Shaken by receiving this taste of her own medicine Zara responds angrily. ‘What are you anyway a white witch or a black witch?’ She looks Mizzy up and down, making a pointed reference to the girl’s skin complexion. ‘Oh, something in-between I guess!’

Mizzy smiles at this insult, deciding to hit Zara where it will hurt the most. ’At least I don’t need to fake a tan!’

‘We should give the witch a dunking and see if she floats!’ says Kylie, provocatively.

‘Yeah, What do you reckon, girls?’ encourages Zara. ‘Shall we see if the witch sinks or swims?’

‘Rather be a witch than a stuck-up cow,’ counters Mizzy, knowing she has gone too far. Zara can’t back down now, without losing face in front of her acolytes.

‘You’re the snotty one – I’ve got mates, unlike you losers,’ laughs Zara, jabbing Mizzy sharply in the stomach.

This display of violence is too much for Oskar, and he shouts, ‘Stop it, you’re just trying to pick a fight with us.’

‘What you going to do about it, Nerdy? You think you saddo’s worry me?’

Mizzy replies, ‘I’d be really worried if I were you.’

‘Why’s that then?’

‘You said yourself. I’m a witch aren’t I?’

Raising clenched fists, Mizzy chants, ‘Salmay! Dalmay! Adonay!’

‘She’s casting a spell or something!’ screams Kylie.

With a rumble of thunder the threatening storm finally breaks, as Mizzy brings down her hands. With a loud bang, a cloud of purple smoke surrounds Zara. ‘I don’t know what you did then, but that’s not normal,’ she shouts in fear and anger, eyes wide in shock. ‘You’re a freak. Normal people, shouldn’t have to be in the same school as you.’

‘Za, best leave it, she’s not worth it!’ pleads Kylie, looking at Mizzy warily.

Zara flounces off; trying to maintain a facade of indifference, her entourage trailing after her.

Dumbfounded, Oskar says, ‘Well, that bit of magic scared them off.’

‘Not Magic – Science – I just said some stupid words from one of my mum’s old books. The rest was a chemical reaction.’

‘A trick?’

Mizzy points to a broken glass vial on the ground. ‘See. Made it in the Science Lab. One-half zinc and iodine, the other water. Break it, so they mix, and you get a pretty little purple explosion. Don’t try it at home.’

Oskar laughs, ‘Wow, and they call me a nerd?’

As snow flutters down, Mizzy smiles back at him. ‘Come on, we better get down into the village before it gets worse.’