I was seventeen in 1970 when my older sister, Meg, was initiated into a Wiccan coven. We sat on the grass in the backyard, and as the Santa Anas blew devilish wild hot air into the autumn sky, I listened to Meg’s words as she described the "Sowe-When" (Halloween) celebration coming up.
I begged her to take me with her when she and her coven sisters gathered on the beach under the waning quarter moon, calling spirits from their graves. I wanted to see the bonfire, and I wanted my fortune told. But she just shook her head and said that she couldn't invite me because she had not yet served the required "year and a day."
"Just think about the past and step toward the future," Meg said as she placed a small silver pentagram in my hand. "This is for protection -- tonight the veil between the worlds is removed, and the spirits roam freely. Be careful. Some of those spirits aren't human, and they have a real sick sense of humor. "
As luck would have it, I forgot the talisman Meg had given me when I dressed up as the Red Queen that Halloween night. I meant to put the pentagram on the chain around my neck, but I didn't. And I should have. I had a double-date, and my date, Scott, already had the other couple in his van when he picked me up. We were planning to crash a popular cheerleader’s costume party, but we didn't know her address. Scott had only a general idea of where she lived, but he thought we'd find her party by looking for familiar cars on the street, and a blaring stereo from a well-lit house. After hours of wandering, we decided to give up and head for the beach. It was nearly midnight when we got there, and I could see a fire ring being used in the distance. I had to open my big mouth an announce that there were witches conjuring spirits there.
Pete and Scott took off running, while Alicia Beckman and I stood like shadows. We had no choice but to follow, moving as if in slow motion across the thick, dry sand. I heard the high-pitched sound of surprised women, and I saw a group of black-clad bodies scatter. An enormous wave crashed in the darkness beyond, sending tendrils of water to our feet.
By the time we caught up with them, the guys were next to the fire pit, rolling on the ground laughing. When I looked up, we were encircled by the Coven, who chanted, calling forth spirits to "play" with us. We ran away laughing.
The rest of the night was hell; I have never been so scared in my life. It was if we were being followed by a gang of invisible practical jokers -- we'd hear footsteps, feel someone hit us, see small objects float in the air, and hear deep, ghostly laughter. I thought the night would never end.
The next morning my sister, who was understandably furious, confronted me. "How could you?" she kept asking, but when she realized how upset I was, she performed a "purification ritual," and I calmed down. Meg added soberly: "Those spirits have you now. They'll return every Halloween."
At first I didn't believe her, but since that Halloween, my life’s been haunted on the last night of October. And, although I've learned to ignore the slamming doors and windows, the volume on the TV turning loud, or the sprinklers that turn on while I'm weeding the garden, the spirits seem more restless this year. I have this strange, eerie feeling that something’s about to happen.
They are here already. Before the sun came up today, I heard footsteps on the stairs ...