This story takes place before there were cell phones, in a world that was aware there were human predators but didn’t realize they lived in the neighbourhood. A time when trick-or-treating was innocent fun. When Halloween meant dressing up in costumes rather than movie mayhem. A time when legends borrowed from the past mixed with new world traditions and became stories about magic without bloodshed.
"We’ll be late," Rose said impatiently.
"I am not leaving without him," Andrew said, craning his neck to see if he could spot Patrick in the crowds. He was as anxious as Rose was to find him. They’d already missed one bus and Andrew’s Dad had told him to be home before dark which meant he had to be on the next bus.
"I have to get into my costume, it takes time," Rose said. "We’re going to miss trick-or-treat. We’ll miss all the chocolate."
"We came together, we leave together," Andrew said. His tone left no room for doubt. He was the oldest, being already eleven, six months older than Rose and four months older than Patrick.
"It’s just like him to wander off," muttered Rose.
Andrew tried to ignore her, something he’d been trying to do all afternoon, long before Patrick got lost. He’s probably not lost, Andrew thought, he’s just avoiding Rosie, the Raptor.
The good thing about Rose was that she was always figuring out an easier way, a cheaper way, or a more fun way, to do something. Rose found out about stuff, like this outing. None of the other kids from Heatherbrae school knew about the Halloween Fair because it was across the Rexglen ravine.
The bad thing about Rose was her whining, like now. Andrew wondered, not for the first time, how long it would be before they stopped hanging out together.
"If he’s not here by the time the next bus . . . " she began.
"What about the next bus?" Patrick interrupted, appearing from behind a T-shirt stall.
"Where were you?" Rose demanded.
Patrick ignored her question and proudly held up a silver charm fashioned to look like braided rope knotted and looped into a circle.
"Looks like a cheap earring," Rose cracked, belittling Patrick’s precious find.
Andrew pointed down the road, "There’s the bus."
Patrick pocketed his charm and the trio joined the line to board. A standing load of teens variously dressed for the "Best Traditional Costume" contest, spewed out of both doors. Frankensteins and Mummies, Werewolves and Draculas spilled into the fairgrounds. Andrew and Patrick were enjoying this grotesque parade until Rose’s, "Boring!"
Patrick and Andrew pulled out their bus passes and stepped on board.
Rose stopped at the doorway, searching for her bus pass.
"Step aside, please," the driver said in that imperious tone adults use for children.
For a moment, Andrew hesitated when she moved over, thinking it might serve her right if he and Patrick left her there. It was a fleeting thought. He knew he couldn’t. They got off the bus too. The driver let out a sigh common to parents and shopkeepers alike for the benefit of the other passengers.
"I can’t find it," Rose whined, "I had it before you disappeared." She glared at Patrick as if it were his fault.
"No problem," Andrew said. "We’ll pay cash."
But the pocket contents of three pairs of jeans didn’t add up to what they needed.
"My knife is worth a lot. I could trade it," Andrew offered. The Army knife he always carried was Andrew’s most valued possession but they agreed it was not something that would likely sway a bus driver.
"What about the charm?" Rose suggested. "It looks antique. The driver might like it."
Patrick tensed but said nothing.
Andrew knew the charm meant too much to Patrick to trade away.
Even so, Patrick made the offer, "Maybe I should," he said, remembering the last time Andrew had been in trouble. "Your Dad’ll be mad if you’re late."
Before Andrew could reassure him, Rose offered an alternate scheme, "If I had a pass I could go home and ask Brad to drive back and pick up whoever stays behind."
Patrick thought it sounded reasonable and was about to hand over his pass when Andrew intervened. Andrew knew that Brad, Rose’s stepbrother, hadn’t spoken to her for weeks and wasn’t about to do her any favours. "We came together, we leave together!"
"With only two passes!?" Rose said.
"We walk, stupid!" Andrew said.
Calling Rose ’stupid’ was guaranteed to make her face go red. And shut her up. For a little while.
It wasn’t as if they’d be going anywhere they didn’t know. All summer, Andrew and Patrick had explored every part of the surrounding countryside, following the twisted creek bed through the ravine until it crossed under the highway-9 bridge, trekking over the hills and through the bush so often that the way home was as familiar as their own street.
But today just walking was difficult for Patrick. During gym class he had broken a blister on his heel. He didn’t tell the others, not wanting to be left alone as he’d so bravely been about to volunteer a moment ago.
Rose looked at the sky. "It’ll be dark soon."
Andrew detected a tremor in her voice. He knew Rose got jumpy at night. "We’ll be home before it’s full dark," he soothed. "If we get going."
Rose folded her arms. "We should stay where it’s safe," she said.
Andrew shook his head at her and led Patrick into the woods.
The bus belched air and departed.
Rose, arms still folded, fell in step behind the boys smouldering in silence.
"Let me see it," Andrew asked. He was familiar with the other charms in Patrick’s collection and wanted a closer look at this newest addition.
Patrick had attached the charm to a chain, which was attached to the belt loop of his jeans, above the pocket he kept it in. He undid the chain and handed the charm to Andrew.
"Cool," Andrew said. It felt heavier, denser, less delicate than any of Patrick’s other charms.
"Nana said solid silver is best because silver is a moon metal and magic is empowered by the moon."
"Moonlight is just sunlight reflected from a lifeless rock," Andrew reminded him, in a matter-of-fact fashion.
As always, Patrick ignored his friend’s skepticism.
"Conjure up my bus pass why don’t you?" Rose piped up.
Patrick stopped and wriggled his heel to ease the blister. It would be silly to call a spell for a bus pass but something might be possible.
"You’re not serious?" Andrew said knowing Patrick’s intent as soon as he snatched back the charm. Being his closest friend didn’t mean Andrew fell for all the mumbo-voodoo Patrick had learned from his grandmother.
Patrick didn’t hear him.
Patrick was concentrating on the words Nana had taught him. Power words from the Olde Country. He had spent hours with her, looking through books which had crossed the ocean hidden in her trunk, listening to stories about witches and ghosts, imps and fairies - - about a world that his parents, and his friend, refused to believe in.
During March Break a car crash stole Nana from him, leaving Patrick shocked and inconsolable. It wasn’t fair. She hadn’t finished his lessons. She hadn’t taught him the most important spell. The spell to bring back the beloved dead. When his parents went to the funeral home to make arrangements Patrick rushed to Nana’s room and took the books and charms out of her trunk before his mother threw it all into the garbage truck. Every night he studied, invoking a variety of spells to bring Nana back but she never answered.
Just before the start of Summer Vacation, Patrick’s father took Andrew aside and asked him to watch over Patrick during the summer. Also concerned about his friend, Andrew was eager to agree.
And so they spent all summer together.
Patrick led them on hikes through the woods carrying a tin box attached to a chain hooked to the belt loop above the pocket where he kept it. A folding net in his back pocket was for the capture of particular species of toad, moth, caterpillar, or beetle, as well as for scooping the occasional plant root or mould.
In August they met Rose who was also exploring the fields. She had a magnifying glass stamped with her initials and wrote her observations in a journal embossed with her name. Andrew’s interest in their tedious tasks was reborn when she agreed to help locate specimens for Patrick.
Once school started again they hardly saw Patrick. He would rush straight home and not come back out. Alone together Andrew and Rose started to get on each other’s nerves, until their paths rarely crossed, and only at school.
Then, yesterday, Patrick called and asked him to come over.
Lined up on the windowsill of Patrick’s room were five ex-peanut-butter jars with magic-marker labels: CAT, SPIDER, RAT, BAT, SNAKE. The ingredients of each jar was prepared according to various recipes from Nana’s books using the specimens they had collected over the summer.
"For tomorrow," Patrick explained. "That’s when supernatural spirits roam the surface world and boost the power of magic." He deliberately left out Nana’s warning: that the usual result was more mischief than help.
He gave Andrew four different charms to hold and proceeded to attach string to each. Pushpins driven into the wooden frame of his window held the stringed charms above the jars.
"Nana said they focus magic the way a lens focuses light.
"She said that in the Olde Country, people would wait months until All Hallow’s Evening before they would cast a spell or mix a potion."
"What about that one?" Andrew said and pointed to the jar labeled SPIDER which had no charm.
"I haven’t found anything for it yet."
When Rose called to tell them about the Halloween Fair, Patrick was eager to go. But the Fair had been disappointing. He found the booths and displays all so ordinary.
He was trailing behind Rose and Andrew on the way to the bus and home when a glitter caught his eye. He followed it down a long narrow laneway sided by high walls of roughly dressed brick.
At the far end, a roly-poly woman in a floral-print dress sat on the bottom of three steps which lead to the door of a keyhole-shaped wooden wagon.
The woman’s eyes were closed and she seemed asleep in front of a tray full of the kind of stuff Patrick had seen everywhere else: rubber spiders, plastic puke, glow-in-the-dark skeletons, nothing special, just general junk - - except for one glittering charm.
He reached out to it, casting a shadow with his arm. For an extra instant, the silver stayed aglow with its own light, a mischievous sparkle that danced around the braided strands in the sunless silhouette.
The woman snatched the charm out of his reach, saying it wasn’t supposed to be on the tray, and wasn’t for sale. When he told her about Nana she softened a bit, had him empty his pockets, and hand over all the money he carried in exchange for the charm.