The Planting of the Spectre
A Story of the Crow Witch
by Mike Phillips
A spectre rose from its hiding place. It was hungry and it craved the souls of the innocent. Testing the wind, it splayed its bony fingers and stretched its gaunt arms, reaching toward the sky. Releasing a long, cruel breath the spectre floated into the air. It breathed in and released, rising until it was higher than the tallest tree, then floated away into the night.
Sitting at an old picnic table, head propped up on her hands, Sally Maloney stared at the pumpkin in front of her, trying to decide what to carve. She was at the Albertson farm for the 4-H Halloween party and she was the only one who hadn't finished her Jack-O-Lantern.
Everyone else was out in the corn maze, playing hide and seek. Sally heard them out there, laughing, having a good time without her. Only the row of lighted pumpkin shells, carved into curious and hideous faces to ward the spirits of the night, were there to keep her company, glowing and grinning in the darkness.
A cloud passed over the full moon, casting a deep shadow. Sally felt a sudden chill. She had the feeling that something was watching her, something bad, but when she turned around nothing was there. She went back to her work on the pumpkin, still unable to decide what to do with it.
A crow flew down from the sky and came to rest beside her. It was a rather large bird and had the shiniest black feathers Sally had ever seen.
“Crows are a portent of evil,” she told the bird. “At least that's what books say.”
“And so they do,” the crow replied. “Well spoken. And so this day I am in fact a portent of evil.”
“What evil?” Sally asked, unaffected by the strangeness of the messenger.
“Aren't you surprised that a bird can talk?” the crow asked. “Most people have difficulties accepting that.”
“I bet most people do and so would I if you were really a crow,” Sally said.
“What do you mean, if I were really a crow?” the bird asked, incredulous.
“You're Miss Weigenmeister, the librarian. You only look like a crow.”
“And how do you know that?” Miss Weigenmeister asked suspiciously.
“I can see you under all those feathers, and especially behind your eyes. I like your eyes.” She added, “Then there's your voice. It's the same too. Oh, don't worry, I won't tell your secret, I promise.”
“You can see me as I really am?”
“Well, yeah. Haven't I proved that by my guess?”
“I suppose you have.”
“Will you teach me how to be a crow some day?”
“Well, now that I know about this talent of yours, perhaps I will,” said Miss Weigenmeister the crow. “But right now we have work to do. Not long ago, I was out in my garden and I felt the passing of an evil and wicked thing in the sky, floating above the trees. I followed and it led me here. Will you help?”
“I don't know what I can do,” replied Sally, turning away in shame. “Maybe one of my older sisters can help. They can do everything.”
“If you can see me you may have more talent and ability than you suspect,” Miss Weigenmeister said. Sally didn't reply. “Look at that pumpkin for example. Am I correct in assuming that is one of the famous Maloney family pumpkins, the seeds of which have been passed down over the generations?”
“Yeah, big deal. So to be a Maloney you have to be good at growing pumpkins. I don't like pumpkins and I don't like carving Jack-O-Lanterns. It's gross.” Then Sally thought better of what she had said. “I'm sorry. I'm not having a very good day, that's all. It's not your fault.”
“What is wrong, my dear?”
Turning back to the pumpkin with the knife, she began to open the top, scoring the lines that would eventually become the features of the jack-o-lantern. “Oh, I'm not good at sewing or crafts or those kinds of things like my sisters are. The only reason that I'm in 4-H is because they are.”
“That can't be the real reason,” Miss Weigenmeister prompted softly.
Still staring at the pumpkin, Sally said in a low voice, “Nobody likes me.”
“Come now, you're a nice girl. It really doesn't matter that you can't sew. You must have a lot of friends.”
“I do, at school, but not in 4-H. The only friend I have, Linda Bleu, isn't here. I'm all alone.”
“Well I'm here now and we have things to do. Evil is afoot. The hunt is up. No time to feel lonely.”
“But what can I do?”
“My point about the pumpkin is that with proper water, soil, and sunlight, a tiny pumpkin seed can grow to humongous proportions. Some pumpkin plants will grow long vines. Some will grow many flowers. Some will grow large pumpkins. It all depends on the determination of the seed. The talent isn't what matters. It's how that talent is used.”
“I'm sorry, but I still don't know what I can do to help,” Sally said.
“And neither do I, but we might find out together. Now, let's go. We'll have to find the others. We have to find this evil thing and destroy it.” Miss Weigenmeister paused. “By the way, where are all the others? Are they out on a hayride? We may have to go find them. Do you know how to drive a car?”
Laughing at the last, absurd, question, Sally said, “No. They're out in the field, in the corn maze.”
The silence was suddenly striking. Sally blanched. “I heard them out there, just a minute ago.”
“Sally, oh dear, it comes this way! I can feel it.”
An odd shape stepped out of the cornfield. Sally felt a chill that frosted her blood. The spectre was tall and lean and looked as if it were carved from wood. Its clothes were all black and hung upon it as if some lifeless doll. It walked toward the girl and the crow with a gait that was stiff and ungraceful.
Behind the spectre, from the corn, came the children. The children followed the spectre at a distance, but there could be no question that they were under its thrall. Their faces were blank, devoid of all emotion. Their arms hung limp at their sides. In their eyes a sickly green light glowed.
“Come for a kiss,” the spectre said. Its voice was like a whisper in Sally's ear. “Come here my dear. Come for a kiss and you will be mine.”
“No way, you sick old man,” Sally shouted in disgust.
The spectre seemed surprised, almost wounded by her defiance. It spoke again. “Come, come to me so that I may give you the gift of eternal life,” it said, stretching its arms out to her.
Clutching the carving knife, Sally stepped back toward the house. The spectre followed, but showing caution, keeping a measured distance from the picnic table and the glowing Jack-O-Lanterns.
“No!” Sally shouted.
“Yes. Yes, I'll have you. You can't defy me.” The thing was horribly vexed, and full of wrath it flew toward her.
“Quick Sally, the pumpkin,” Miss Weigenmeister shouted.
“A talking crow?” the spectre said. “Be off, witch, these children are mine. Get your own.”
That was all the time Sally needed. Screaming with fear, Sally ran back to the table and took hold of the pumpkin. Sobbing, shaking, she flung it at the spectre with all her strength. The shell broke upon the wicked thing's chest. A few seeds and gut stained the spectre's garments as the pumpkin fell to the ground.
Looking down, the spectre laughed. “No good. Now I'll get you and the witch.”
But with those words the seeds clinging to the spectre's clothes sprouted and took root. The tiny plants grew, as if an entire season in just a few moments. Then too the seeds on the ground sprouted and thick green vines began to reach out. The spectre was caught and pulled backwards, overpowered by the vines, rooted to the ground.
In a moment the spectre was gone, little more than a mound of earth. In its place grew a vast tangle of green, growing wide in all directions. Flowers bloomed and then fell to the ground. Round, ripe, healthy pumpkins grew in their places.
The spell broken, the children woke. They looked confused but otherwise unhurt. Miss Weigenmeister gave Sally a quick wink, and without a word, she flew away.
Copyright © 2010 by Mike Phillips