The year was 1695. The place was Ipswich, in old colonial Massachusetts; a town that people tend to forget had quite the guilty conscience in those days. Hanging witches wasn't a hobby that was solely of interest to the fine and Christian people of Salem. All over New England, a crazed hysteria had taken hold of the fearful and the narrow-minded. They together killed nineteen innocent women, and one innocent man.
1695 was the same year that a man named Thomas Maule wrote that it was "better that one hundred Witches should live, than that one person be put to death for a witch, which is not a Witch."
Really, though, there was only one real witch in all of America at that time. And she wasn't going to make a nuisance of herself, except in the life of one particular man.
His name was Felix, and he had lived all of his life in Ipswich, playing at the riverfront and chasing all the pretty girls. He had survived the cold of the early years, when he was a boy, and the harsh storms that the colonists had not at first expected. His parents were dead by then, both of sickness and at different times, and he was the sole owner and resident of a small but cozy house just off the road to Castle Hill.
He was the picture of hardiness in those days, with his tall and burly frame, his mess of dark hair, and his smiling eyes with their perpetual (and highly specific) blend of arrogance and good-nature. His strength was notorious, his boisterous laugh known to as many ears as the call of the crow, and he was called upon often to help with difficult tasks or arduous chores.
In a time when few locals could be proud of themselves, Felix had become something of a local hero. And a benign one at that.
It was on Halloween night that the two of them first met. The full moon seemed perfectly round, and oddly close to the earth, glowing with pale yellow light and casting the long and slender shadows of the trees onto the road. Felix was making his way home, not paying much mind to the darkness or the dangers of the night. After all, there were very few things that he couldn't easily trounce in a fight.
Still, when the bushes alongside him began to rustle, and a sleek black cat jumped into the road in front of him, he stepped backwards from it with a sudden gasp.
The cat adjusted itself, so that it was sitting patiently in the middle of the road, and titled it's head to one side.
"Well!" Felix laughed, half talking to himself and half to the cat, "Aren't I a fine example of courage? Being afraid of a pretty little creature like you!"
And then, all at once, there was a flash of white in his eyes. As though lightning had struck the ground right before him. He blinked a few times, trying to recover his vision.
When he looked back at the road, the cat was no longer there. In its place was a young woman in a black velvet hood. She was small and slim, but pretty by most standards, with fair hair, pearl-white skin, a small and dainty mouth, and large, elegant eyes. By the moonlight, Felix could not properly tell their colour, but he would later learn that they were as red as a ruby.
"Hello." She said simply, as though it were perfectly normal for her to be standing alone in the road, in the darkest hours of the night, holding a conversation with a stranger.
"Hello." Felix replied with a nervous grin, because he could think of nothing else that was better to say.
"Did you mean what you just said?" She asked.
"That you thought I was a pretty little creature…"
"Oh!" He chuckled, "That! I was talking to a cat here in the road, I didn't realize you were out here, you see. Though, since you ask, you are very pretty."
She smiled, and the moonlight glittered in her strange and sinister eyes.
"The cat's gone now," Felix looked around, "Oh well. Listen, you shouldn't be out on this road alone at this time of night. It's a good way to come across the wrong sort."
"But I haven't come across the wrong sort," She replied, "I've come across you. And I have a feeling that you're exactly the right sort."
"Consider yourself very fortunate," He nodded in all seriousness, "Especially tonight and in these parts."
"I thought they were finished hunting women."
"Best not to phrase it like that," Felix advised, "And they've only stopped going through the proper channels for it. There are some who would swear on the good book itself that witches are real, and that there is at least one in this town. And they wouldn't let something like good sense come between them and hanging her."
"But you don't believe in witches?" The girl asked, looking very much amused.
"After all this? No man right in his mind could say he believed in a witch! Now," He said firmly, "Let's get you to the inn, before the weather turns."
"Is the weather going to turn?" She looked up at the sky with a puzzled expression. It was clear and dotted with crystal stars. Not a rain cloud in sight.
"Didn't you see that lightning? A storm must be on its way."
"Oh," She nodded, "Yes. The lightning."
"Here," He said, "Take my arm, so you don't trip along the road."
She gently reached out and looped her delicate arm through his strong one, and smiled up at him with that glint in her eyes once more.
"I'm so tired, I don't think I could make it all the way to the inn," She said, "Can't we go to where you live? It's only a short walk from here, and such a nice little house. I've always wanted to go inside…"
"You're familiar with it?" He asked, surprised, "But, you can't be from around these parts. I know for certain that we've never been introduced, and I think I would remember if I'd seen you at a distance."
"Would you?" She asked, with a note of excitement and longing in her voice.
"I most certainly would. I never forget a pretty girl."
Somehow, without the matter having been settled at all, they had begun walking towards the house where Felix lived. Ordinarily, he would have protested the matter out of propriety. He had just met the woman, and had no knowledge of who she was or where she came from. Good manners dictated that he at least try to talk her into going along to the inn, or even offer to carry her part of the way.
Even more problematic to him under normal circumstances was the fact that she had the countenance of a fine porcelain doll, the kind that were made in England and kept on display by wealthy ladies. She was nothing like the bawdy country girls Felix was used to misbehaving with.
"What's your name?" She asked as they walked, pulling herself closer against his arm.
"Felix. What's yours?"
"I don't believe I know of any girls called Jane."
"You'll know me now. And for a very long time, I hope."
"Do you?" He asked, as they stopped in front of the door to his house. He turned and looked at her by the lantern light of the windows.
Red, he noticed for the first time. But he didn't mind. After all, a girl couldn't help the colour of her eyes.
"Oh yes," She said, "I do."
Her voice was like sweet music to him. Silvery and intangible. It pulled at his heart with a longing that was almost painful, all he wanted - all he thought that he would ever want again - was to hear her speak to him. At once he wished that he had never met her at all, and he wondered if this was what it was like for a sailor to hear a siren's call. But he wondered also if it was the great Fairy Tale, the thing sought but never gained by the likes of him.
He felt certain that it was the second one.
Gently, he took her delicate chin in his hand, he leaned down, and he kissed her softly.
It was near to dawn when she woke him. Her small and delicate hand on the bare skin of his powerful and muscular chest, shaking him softly. The sky outside the window was pale orange in the distance, but the light in the room seemed cold and grey.
"Felix," She whispered, "Felix, you must wake up. It's almost morning, I don't have much time."
"Plenty of time," He mumbled, wrapping his arm around her and pulling her close, "Nobody knows you're here."
"Oh!" She said angrily, and shook him more violently, "Wake up! This is serious!"
He exhaled deeply and shook his head a few times, in an attempt to pull himself from the clutches of slumber. It wasn't easy going for him. Felix had always been a man who slept when he meant to. But with the morning light often comes logic, and he thought that he knew what was troubling her. No doubt she would fear that he had ruined her, and was meaning to abandon her and sully her reputation.
Felix thought that the conversation would simply be a matter of announcing the intention he had decided during the passion of the night before. He was going to marry this strange, enchanting girl.
"I've fallen in love with you…" He began as romantically as he knew how to.
"Yes, yes. Of course you have," She replied with great annoyance, "Will you be my husband?"
"Yes," He laughed brightly, "If you'll still have me, now that you've spoiled my virtue."
It was then that she told him what she was. He didn't believe her at first, but then the evidence kept falling to her side, and he had no real choice not to believe her. It was very difficult to keep arguing with the truth.
She promised him that, as the husband of a witch, he would be wise, wealthy, and live long beyond his years. And she would love him, since she had loved him for quite awhile already. She'd followed him in the guise of a cat for almost all of one year, and she'd never seen anyone she would be able to love half as much.
But, there was a cost to it all.
There's always a cost with witches.
She could only be with him during the week of Halloween, when she would find him while she was in the form of an animal. He would have to speak with her, any words would do, and she would transform back into herself. For all the year between, Felix would have to live alone.
At first, she didn't tell him why. Many years later, she explained the curse in full, but he never broke the promise he made to repeat the reason to no one. Some say it was a black magic spell she had done that had gone awry; others supposed another witch had put a hex on her. Nothing could ever be said about it with any authority, since the only people who knew the answer were planning to take it with them to their graves.
It was easy for him, in the beginning. The love between them was real, and new, and still sweet. And she gave him everything that she promised him. When he needed money, which was an increasingly rare occurrence, she would give him some valuable trinket at Halloween, and when he sold it in November, he'd have enough to buy whatever he wanted or pay off any debts. He became wise, because he lived so long that he couldn't help but learn new things. He became somewhat of an expert on American history. And, of course, he never aged a day from the time they were married.
There were the expected troubles and annoyances, too. He could never stay in the same town or city for too long without arousing suspicion. He had few friends, and the ones he kept in touch with through correspondence, in order to protect his secret, all eventually died. Everyone died, except for him and Jane.
He met George Washington in person once, knew from first hand experience that Thomas Jefferson was not a very good public speaker, and watched the entire American Revolution unfold. He went westward later on, became a millionaire thanks to a silver mine in Arizona, and lost all his money in a gambling house in Hawaii, before Hawaii was particularly popular. He was in San Francisco for the earthquake, got shot at by a man who worked for Al Capone, and had wound up on the wrong side of the Civil War despite being a true bred Yankee who agreed with Lincoln nine times out of ten.
Then there were the ups and downs of the marriage itself.
Early on, in 1708 or 1709, when Felix had first left Ipswich for Boston, he lost track of the date. It was the first time he had ever done it, given how important the month of October had become to him; but he'd been distracted by setting up the new house and arranging his new job.
It had been raining all that day, and the day before it. A ceaseless pouring, that drummed against the windows and turned every garden into mud.
Felix spent the afternoon shut in his house, the fire warm and crackling, and a glass of fine warm rum in his hand. It was peaceful and quiet, save for the constant rhythm of the rain, and he soon enough found himself dozing in his chair.
He was woken up by a strange sound, something between a the howl of a wolf and the whimper of a young puppy. It sounded over and over again, until Felix was going mad just from hearing it. He leapt from his chair and stormed to the door, which he practically ripped off of its hinges.
There, right on his doorstep, was a small black terrier. It was shivering and covered in thick raindrops that sat on top of its fur, and it looked up at him with a vicious expression. Thinking it was just an ordinary stray dog, Felix scolded it angrily:
"You quit that racket!"
The flash of white lightning came at once, though Felix had grown used to it over the years. This time, it came more as a flash of epiphany than anything else. How could he have forgotten the date? He cursed himself as he readjusted his eyes.
Jane was standing where the dog had been. Her lovely blonde hair was soaked through, and the tip of her nose was rosy red from the cold. She was shivering fiercely.
"Quit that racket?" She repeated, the words dripping with venom, "Quit that racket?"
"Darling," Felix began as sweetly as he could manage, "I didn't realize it was you! I would never have said something like that to you! I love you!"
"How could you fail to realize it was me?" She demanded.
"Uhh…" He had to be tactful. To confess the truth of just how little he had been paying attention would only make her angrier. She would get it into her head that he hadn't been looking forward to her visit, which wasn't true at all, "Um… the uh… with… sometimes… huh? What was the question?"
She locked eyes with her husband, transfixing him with her gaze.
The red of her irises seemed to intensify, until it was the colour of a ripe apple. The glow of them held him still, and he could not blink or look away. All the world was gone but the two of them.
And her eyes grew redder still.
Then, the pain came upon Felix.
It started in the tips of his fingers. A sudden snap of it, like someone was holding a match to his hand. He flinched his wrists when it started, but he didn't gasp or cry out. And when the sensation began to travel up his arms, he steeled himself against it.
He forced himself to stare deeper into those eyes of hers, standing still as an oak tree.
Soon, his whole body ached and burned. It was agonizing and unstoppable, and he knew that she was doing it to him on purpose. So he fought it, in a way that perhaps no other man would have the strength to.
The torture seemed to go on for hours, though it was really only a minute or two.
When the pain fell away from him, it was like someone had put a cooling cloth on a burn. Almost refreshing to have returned to normal. But his body was exhausted, and the ordeal had made him bitter and resentful.
Jane's face softened as she released him, and she stood on her tiptoes and threw her arms around his neck. She was sweet and lovely again. He wondered how long it would last.
"I'm sorry," She told him, "I shouldn't have done that. I didn't want to hurt you, I'm so sorry. I'm just cold and wet and miserable. We get so little time together, and I love you so dearly it drives me to awful things. Can you forgive me? Please?"
He stroked her hair to calm her, and said:
"Of course I forgive you."
But he didn't really mean it.
The next year, he spoke very politely to every animal he met in the month of October, just to be on the safe side. And when she finally did appear, it was as a very elegant songbird that landed on the window. The year after that, she was a little mouse that squeaked up at him from beside his slipper. One year she was a spider, another she was a porcupine. Most often she was a cat, but she establish a fairly varied repertoire early on in their life together.
And even though they quarrelled and treated one another badly from time to time, the first couple of centuries went by quite nicely for them. Sometimes the meetings were so perfectly romantic, that it was a great shame to the two of them to part at the first cold light of November.
One year they spent in Savannah, and Jane was so perfectly wifely, that Felix founding himself wishing they could go on living in that week forever. To grow old, to have children, to say damnation to the powers of witchcraft and the benefits of unlimited wealth and eternal life. But the week ended, and they went along as they always had before.
Fashion didn't suit her for quite awhile. The dresses became so full in the skirt that her tiny frame was lost in an endless sea of ruffles and petticoats. Fashion didn't suit him for awhile, either. He found himself living in New York during the time of Hessian boots and cravats, and his refusal to dress like an idiot earned him a reputation for having boorish tastes.
It was in the early twentieth century that clothes began to flatter both of them, but that was when the real trouble between them began.
During the autumn of 1933, Felix was living in St. Louis, having just left Chicago. He had a nice apartment with a view of the river, and was passing himself off as his own son. It was around this time that he began to write about his involvement in American history, by publishing old correspondence between him and friends, and selling various items to university libraries. Of course, he created an elaborate web of lies about a family tree that didn't exist and generations upon generations of men who were all named Felix.
In the middle of the morning, an owl landed on the fire escape by his office window.
"Hello, dear." He said, absent-mindedly as he finished off a paper he was working on.
The flash of white light, and his wife pulled the window open from the other side and climbed into the room.
"Hello, my love," She replied, and her voice had that dangerous edge of affection and cruelty that sometimes overtook her, "How was your year?"
"Just fine," He answered, "Just fine. And yours?"
"Mine wasn't important," She shrugged, "I want to talk about you. Did you meet any interesting people?"
"I suppose so," He nodded, looking up from his paper, "One or two."
"One or two," She repeated, raising an eyebrow at him, her mouth was curled in a slight smile, "Did one or two of them have red hair?"
"Mmm-hmm," Her smile widened, and her eyes glimmered, "Long red hair, and blue eyes, and a voluptuous figure?"
"Oh, you mean Mona!" Felix laughed, "Yes, I met a girl like that."
"What do you mean and what? You know exactly and what!" She cried angrily, balling her hand into a fist and striking at him. He caught her arm mid-air, careful not to exert too much force. He didn't want to hurt her, he just wanted to stop her from hitting him.
"Lower your voice, Jane. People will hear you."
"I don't care if they hear me, you louse! How could you, after everything I've given you?" She shouted, as loud as she pleased, "Oh, I'm no fool! I know you've had needs over the years, and I've done my best to overlook your minor indiscretions, but this is different! You took her to the theatre! You've never taken me to the theatre!"
"Quiet!" He said through gritted teeth, and stood up from his desk, his full height towering over her, "I don't take you to the theatre because I only see you for one week of the damn year. I want to spend time with you alone. I love you."
He seemed very, very angry.
"And this… this Mona?"
Mona was something Felix had thought that he deserved. She had reminded him of the fun, rosy-cheeked farm girls of Ipswich all those many years ago. And he had grown lonely. He always suspected that Jane knew of his occasional unfaithfulness, but she had never before brought it up or seemed to mind. And Mona was devoted to him. She was in awe of his physical prowess and his cleverness, she had looked at him like he was a Greek god come to Earth.
It had been nice to be so unabashedly worshipped.
"Mona is just someone I know." He said, in calmer tones.
"Good. Then you won't miss her." Jane said, with a certain note of satisfaction.
"Won't miss…?" Felix asked in confusion, and then the realization dawned on him, "What did you do to her?"
"I didn't do anything," She replied, very innocently, "I think you'll find that if you ask anyone who was there, she did it to herself. Poor thing."
There were very few good Halloweens after that.
As the years went by, the two of them argued more and more. Nothing either of them did ever seemed good enough for the other, and they stopped with the darlings and dears all together. And Felix became very skilled at withstanding the vindictive bursts of pain she put him through during their spats.
Eventually, it seemed as though she visited him out of obligation more than anything else. She had taken less of an interest in his life between the times she saw him, and he found it hard to believe she had ever been the same girl he had fallen in love with in over three hundred years before.
He began to wonder if his love had ever been his own doing, or some enchantment she had put upon him.
Then he met Gianna.
It was after he had taken a job teaching history at a university in California. She was one of the department's research assistants. It had started slowly, at first, with her interest in the romantic past. Through her eyes, mundane things that Felix had seen and done became illustrious, grand moments. She seemed to love hearing him talk, and he felt that if he could tell her how long he had been alive, it would have been spectacular to her. Not terrifying or unnatural.
He knew that she had fallen in love with him, and he supposed that one day he might fall in love with her. But that was a very dangerous idea.
The first Halloween after their acquaintanceship had started escalating into something else, he was nervous and very much on edge. But when Jane found him, in the form of a small black fox, she didn't seem to know anything about it. They just went about the meeting as usual, and she left in November.
And after that, Gianna was fine. Never a thing wrong with her that seemed supernatural.
The year after that, they began seeing even more of one another and the relationship became very serious. Felix found himself daydreaming about what it would be like to marry her, and live out the rest of his life normally. Would it be possible? But, of course, he knew that Jane would never let him go. And worse, he had no idea what she would do to Gianna if she ever found out about her.
He was still convinced that one day he would be in love with her.
But Gianna didn't have decades to toss around, or centuries during which she could make up her mind. She wanted him to move in with her, and there was no way Felix could think of to stop Jane from noticing that.
Felix decided that his only option was to kill his wife.
In order to transform into a human, he had to speak to her. Any words would do, just as she had told him. But if he remained silent, then she would be trapped as whatever animal she came to him as. It was a simple plan. When she made her presence obvious, he would remain silent until she approached him, and then he would kill her while she was an animal. It was much easier to kill an animal than a person, he thought, and he would be more likely to go through with it if she did not look like herself.
He had made up his mind that it was the only thing he could do to be happy.
That October, he rented a cabin in the mountains. He said that it was to get away from the noise of the city and the school, since he was taking a semester off of teaching to write a book about the history of Hawaii. He telephoned Gianna often, but if they ever got together, he went to see her. He hadn't even told her exactly where the cabin was. It was for her own safety, even if she did complain that he was trying to put too much space between them.
At the start of the week, he was a bundle of nerves. Every rustle in the trees, every snap of a twig, every leaf that fell against the glass made him jump. He found himself wondering what animal she would be, and hoping that it wasn't the cat.
He had too many fond memories of the cat.
Over and over he told himself that it had been long enough. The years between them where things had been strained and unpleasant. It had been long enough that he had a right to free himself.
It was on the Monday night when he heard the scratching on the door. He sat for a moment, preparing himself to go through with it. Bits of stray memory had been coming to him, the loveliness of their love. The secrets she had told him. The moments were they had just been still and together, and a part of one another's lives just like any normal husband and wife.
If only he could back through the centuries instead of always, relentlessly forward.
But he couldn't.
And he had made his choice.
He opened the cabin door, and a raccoon hurried inside. It had wide and mournful eyes, and it stood up and looked at him expectantly. It had the human quality that he had learned to recognize in her animal forms. So, he made certain not to speak, and he kneeled down next to it.
Softly, he reached out and petted the creature's fur, as he had stroked her golden hair so many times before. And then, with all of the speed and strength he had, which was considerable, he grabbed the animal's neck and snapped it.
He thought he was going to be sick.
A wave of regret hit him with the force of a hurricane.
He cried out in absolute despair, and lay the dead creature gently on the floor in front of him.
Strangely, he found that he couldn't stop crying.
"No!" He whispered hoarsely, "I didn't want to! I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry."
As he reached out to touch the small dead thing, the flash of white light struck. Foolishly, he had spoken to the creature, and the curse remained upon it. He was hesitant to look. He didn't want to see what he had done to her, but he decided that he must.
He was going to have to live with what he had done.
But when he looked at where the raccoon had been, Jane was not there. It was the body of another girl, with dark hair and lifeless hazel eyes.
It was Gianna.
Felix stood up in shock, looking at the body in front of him.
Then he heard the sirens of the police cars. Distant at first. He hoped that they had nothing to do with him, he was so far from the main road and there were no neighbours to report anything suspicious. How could they already be here?
And what could he possibly do to save himself?
Frantically, he looked around the room for some clue or sign - but there was no clue or sign to be had. He'd killed a woman, and he would be punished for it. Of course the sirens were for him. Of course it had all been too easy.
When the police came to the cabin, he went with them quietly. He asked how they'd known, and they told him they had received an anonymous tip that Gianna was in danger, and that Felix was going to try to hurt her. He didn't have to ask if the tip had come from a woman.
As they put him in the back of the cruiser, handcuffed and resigned to his fate, a small black moth fluttered out of the open cabin door. It landed on the window of the car for a moment, and fluttered its wings at Felix almost affectionately, and then flew off into the night.
Felix was convicted of Gianna's murder, of course. He had killed her, and there was nothing to exonerate him. And there was no sudden burst of magic to stop that jury from convicting him.
He's been in San Quentin for five years now, though he probably won't be there much longer. Things are looking up for him in the romance department.
According to the visitor records, nobody comes to see him. But he does host a single guest.
Once a year, on Halloween.
A/N: I know, I know, it's not the right time of year for this! But it's always Halloween in my heart, because I love free candy and Vincent Price movies! ^_^
I had this on my to-do list before an injury that put writing on hold for me for awhile, and getting it finished and posted was a hugely awesome moment for me. I hope you enjoyed it, please leave a review or comment even if you didn't like it. All feedback is greatly appreciated.