A Taste of Magic by Deborah Landers
The house at the end of Campbell Road was never visited by trick-or-treaters. It was an unspoken rule among the children of the neighborhood that they would never approach the house. Especially around Halloween. The adults couldn't remember why they held the belief themselves in their youth, but there was an old memory in their heads telling them to avoid it and most chose not to question that.
The house didn't have an unpleasant appearance. Quite the contrary, in fact. It had a lighted path all the way up to the door. It was painted pale blue with white trim and had an open yard with a small pond just visible behind the house from the front sidewalk. There were no stories of missing children in the area to be blamed on its occupants, and no mention was made of the usual fears about those handing out tainted Halloween candy. Still, the house on Campbell Road was off limits.
Someone forgot to warn the newly arrived Baker family of this fact.
Moira Baker was dressed as a witch that Halloween. The black dress had been a collaborative effort between herself and her mother–one of the few people in her extended family who didn't insinuate she was too old for trick-or-treating at age sixteen. Of course, most of them didn't understand the appeal of walking around the streets all dressed up. The free candy was a nice perk, but she dressed up for the fun of it. Beneath the wide brimmed black hat, her face was covered in green face paint, and her hands were hidden away in a pair of gloves. She walked with a large umbrella held closed by a strip of Velcro, pretending it was an oversized cane, and a black satchel hung over her shoulder, already half-filled with candy. She was on her way home when she saw the house.
The first odd thing she noticed was the lack of a mailbox. All the other houses on the block had mailboxes out in front with easy access for the postman. This one did not, nor did it appear that one had been there in some time. Second, she saw the path with the small lights dotted down the length of it. They looked like crystals set into small pillars of stone and planted in the ground at regular intervals. The glow emitting from them was a pink so pale it could be mistaken for white.
Squatting down, Moira examined the nearest light closer, thinking it had to be a trick of construction or something. As she reached out to touch it, a spark of something that wasn't electricity hummed through her body, warming her to the core.
"Oh!" she whispered to herself. She sat back on her haunches. "I doubt mom was expecting this when we moved here."
Glancing up the path to the house again, she caught sight of the sign on the porch welcoming trick-or-treaters. She smiled and stood up, brushing the dirt off her skirt as she started towards the house. Apparently, her evening wasn't over quite yet.
"Wait!" a voice cried out behind her. "Don't go there!"
Moira paused and turned to look at the small boy who had called out to her, his mother clutching his arm and glancing past to the house with a vague expression of fear on her face. The boy was dressed as some kind of superhero, but he had pushed his simple plastic mask up off his face to talk to her, and she could see the earnest brown eyes and the genuine look of concern etched into his brow.
"Why not?" Moira asked, going back to squat in front of the boy.
"Because you can't," he declared with all the certainty of an eight-year-old. "It's not safe."
She chuckled. "But why isn't it safe?"
He shrugged. "I dunno. It just isn't."
She hummed to herself. "Well, they must be doing something right if people are still cautious of them, even if they can't remember why."
"What do you mean by that?" the boy's mother asked, finally focusing on Moira.
She looked up at the mother carefully. "Do you know why no one will go near this house on Halloween?"
The woman paused. "We just don't. There's no reason for it."
A smile tugged at the corners of Moira's lips as she stood up to speak face to face with her.
"There is a reason for it, a very valid reason. An old memory, of sorts. Children tend to be more receptive to these sorts of things, but it never really goes away." She paused, considering for a moment whether she should continue. "Tell me, what do you know about the fair folk?"
"The fair folk?" The woman wrinkled her brow in confusion. "Like fairy tales and things like that?"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Everything. Do you know one of the first rules of dealing with the fair folk?" When the woman shook her head, Moira provided the answer of her own accord. "Don't eat their food or drink their wine. Sound familiar?"
"Vaguely. But what does that have to do with the house?"
Moira sighed. "If you don't know, it doesn't matter." She turned away, but turned back when she felt the boy tap her arm.
"Are you still going in there?" he asked fearfully. "Even though you know it's not safe?"
"Oh, yes," she replied. "It may not be safe for you there, but I'll be fine. Besides, I don't think my mom would be happy with me if I didn't go and say hi to our neighbors, especially since we didn't know they were here." She patted him on the shoulder and gave him a light push in his mother's direction. "You enjoy the rest of your night; don't worry about me."
With that, she started up the path again as the mother pulled her son down the street away from the house before he could ask to follow Moira to the door. Stopping at the door, she took off her gloves and stuffed them into her bag before she knocked softly.
She heard a shuffling inside. Then, quite suddenly, the door swung open and the light from within pooled around her. The woman who held it open was ethereally beautiful, with soft black hair that hung loose to her waist and sapphire blue eyes set in a pale face with sharp elfin features. She stared at Moira for a moment, then her eyes widened.
"I didn't know there was a real witch in the area. You picked an interesting night to be wandering about, especially dressed like that," she said in a lightly accented voice. She stepped to the side, still holding the door open. "Would you like to come in?"
"Yes, I would." Moira stepped inside and gazed around the interior of the house.
The inside was almost as ordinary as the outside. Well, to an untrained eye it would have been, but Moira had grown up around illusions and could easily see the shimmering veneer hanging over everything. With a little bit of focus, she could see the vague shapes beneath the illusion. The thick carpet was actually a layer of grass. The chairs were large toadstools, and the walls were covered in thick vines. The lights were left undisguised, as they resembled the lights along the path to the house, with glowing crystals. These ones, however were more unabashedly colorful, and Moira couldn't help but smile at the layering of light that played across the illusory floor. She didn’t see any other folk, but she knew they were there somewhere, watching her.
"And I'm not the only witch in the area," she continued. "My mother and the rest of her coven are here as well. We just recently arrived from farther north." She sat down on a series of toadstools disguised as a couch. "I can't say any of us expected fair folk to be in the area, but I suppose that's what we get for letting the oracle determine where we should go." She paused, a smile curling its way onto her lips. "Do you put out the sign every year?"
The fair one moved back to the seat she must have vacated to answer the door. "Yes, though nothing comes of it. Not that we really expect anything. If nothing else, it serves as proof they still know who we are."
"On some level, at least," Moira agreed. "I spoke with a woman out there who knew it was dangerous but didn't know why. When I mentioned the fair folk, she didn't think I was serious." She took off her hat and set it on her lap. "What would you do if anyone did come trick-or-treating?"
The fair one pointed at a bowl of candy sitting on a tree stump disguised as a table. There were easily recognizable brands in the bowl, placed almost intentionally to show that they were normal. Since there was no sparkle of magic around them, Moira assumed they were, an assumption which was quickly confirmed.
"The candy is human food, purchased with human money. The Fae lay no claim on it as theirs. It wouldn't be safe to continue as if the world has not changed around us. Pure iron may be difficult to find, but humans have other ways of hunting us down if they knew of our true nature. I am sure you, your mother, and her coven understand this."
Moira nodded. "In some ways it's easier, in other ways harder. We had to move because the wrong sort of person found out and it was easier to leave than to stay and put our faith in the community, not when we'd been there long enough to see them turn on their heroes."
The fae nodded. "Well, this is a good place to start over. My family and I have been here for six human generations and most of our neighbors have come to ignore the workings of magic around them. Those that would pay attention to us find they won't get the acclaim they want by revealing what we are." She chuckled. "The endeavor loses all its appeal after that."
"I'm sure my mom will be happy to hear that. But I should get going." As Moira said this, she stood up. "I promised I wouldn't be out past nine because we have our own traditions to observe tonight."
"Of course." The fae stood. "And I would not want to keep you from them. Blessed Samhain to you and yours."
"The same to you and yours," Moira replied with a curtsy before placing the hat on her head once more. "I have enjoyed this time in your company, short as it has been."
"As have I. The Bitterwind clan welcomes you to the area." She picked up the bowl of candy. "This is not a gift," she said firmly as she pressed it, bowl and all, into Moira's hands. Her eyes sparkled as she added conspiratorially, "I simply think the brownies have enough sugar without providing them with more, and I don't want to have to deal with their shenanigans should they eat them, as they do every other year."
Moira giggled and clutched the bowl to her chest, noticing the indignant movements of little folk beneath the toadstool couch. "Then I shall keep this out of their hands."
As she left, Moira could taste the subtle hint of magic layered over the area that neither she nor any of the coven had noticed before. Now that she knew it was there, it was obvious. Its presence in the air bolstered her spirits because she knew they were not alone anymore.
There was a spring in her step as she turned the corner towards home, thoughts buzzing with possibility and excitement. This was what they had wanted in the beginning—what they had been searching for—a pocket of proper magic. She couldn't guess how her mother would react to the knowledge that she had made contact with a clan of fair folk on her own, nor could she bring herself to care. They would deal with it as it came up.
But whatever else happened, the house at the end of Campbell Road would be getting a lot more traffic in the coming days.