“Jozlyn,” I whispered in the dark, “are you scared?” I could hear her in the bed on the other side of the room talking quietly to her pixie doll, Rosie, so I knew she was still awake.
Jozlyn didn’t call Rosie a doll. She was too old for dolls. She called Rosie her friend and behaved exactly like Rosie was a real pixie.
“Of c-course not, Josh,” she replied in a stutter as if I’d surprised her. “But it’s all right if you are.” Oh sure, I thought, that was just like Jozlyn. As my older sister, she thought she was smarter, faster, and stronger than me. Now she acted like she was braver, too. She never quit.
Jozlyn had just turned thirteen. A teenager. Add that to the fact that she was taller than me, and she was almost impossible to live with.
I was eleven, so Jozlyn really had the upper hand. Until my birthday in three weeks, she’d be two years older than me instead of just one.
I decided to try a trick my Dad had taught me. He said that sisters don’t always tell the whole truth but their dolls usually would. “What about Rosie, is she afraid?” I asked, trying to sound casual.
I wanted to ask What about your little doll? but didn’t think it was the best time to pick a fight. Even though I wouldn’t admit it to Jozlyn, I was nervous.
“Hmm,” Jozlyn mumbled. She sat up in her bed and I could see her in the dim light coming through our window. Jozlyn’s hair was long and blonde like Mom’s. Mine is short and dark like Dad’s. Jozlyn wore a white nightgown embroidered with horses in different colors of thread. Prancing horses, galloping horses, rearing horses, grazing horses. Jozlyn was crazy about horses.
“Well, maybe a little scared,” she admitted, “but not too much. Rosie has magic, don’t forget.”
Here we go again, I thought and rolled my eyes. More of how Rosie wasn’t just a doll. Jozlyn was always telling people that Rosie had magic like a wizard.
Or a witch.
I shivered under my blanket and hoped Jozlyn didn’t notice. Tonight was Cauldron Cooker’s Night, a holiday for witches. That’s why we couldn’t sleep. We’d already been lying in our beds for a long time trying to fall asleep.
Witches rode their brooms all night long in celebration of the spooky holiday. They shrieked and cackled and kept people awake. Supposedly they also tried to catch children who weren’t asleep to throw into a big pot for a midnight snack.
So far, I hadn’t heard anything unusual. Just crickets and a dog barking. Normal nighttime sounds. So far.
That could change at any time. A witch named Cleogha lived on the edge of town where she sold herbs, love potions, and charms to ward off trolls. Cleogha’s charms must work because I’d never seen a troll, and Tiller’s Field, where I lived, was a pretty big town.
My friend from school, Connor Telvenson, claimed he saw a troll once. He was always making up stories though, so I’m not sure I believe him. He said the troll had been fishing from Mosswood Bridge.
“You know, Mom and Dad will be mad if we don’t get to sleep,” Jozlyn reminded in a know-it-all voice. “We have to be up early to save a seat by the fountain to see the Fairy Troops.”
Her bossing me around was her way of changing the subject. I could tell she didn’t want to talk or think about witches or their cauldrons any more than I did. Not on Cauldron Cooker’s Night especially.
Tomorrow was the Trooping Fairy Day Parade when all the fairies from Everleaf Woods gathered to celebrate the arrival of summer. They played tiny instruments, sang songs, and put on a parade at the edge of the forest. All the townsfolk attended the celebration. Parents, children, grandsires and grandmars, babies, and family pets.
There’d be archery competitions, fencing, storytelling, games like unicorn horns, a pie-eating contest, and a big feast in the evening. The mysterious Wizard Ast might even come down from his tower to perform some magic tricks.
I really wanted to fall asleep. Nothing was more exciting than Trooping Fairy Day, except maybe my birthday. The sooner I slept, the sooner tomorrow would arrive and the fun would begin.
Not to mention that a witch wouldn’t catch me awake and stick me in her pot.
“Why don’t you hush and go to sleep yourself? I’m pretty tired,” I told Jozlyn as I faked a big yawn. “And I’m not scared one bit.”
Jozlyn harrumphed and made a big show of flopping back down on her bed. “Well, I’m not scared, and neither is Rosie.” Even in the dim light, I could feel Jozlyn sticking her tongue out at me.
After that, I must have slept for a while because when I opened my eyes next pale moonlight shined in through the window.
Something had awakened me. A strange noise very close by.
Whoosh! The noise came again.
The strange noise came from right outside my window. It sounded like a flock of large bats flapping by at high speed. I didn’t see it, but the moonlight flickered as it passed.
I held my breath and didn’t move. The noise was Witch Cleogha riding her broom, I just knew it. And I was awake. She was going to catch me and put me in her pot.
The sound and the blink of light came again. A shiver snaked its way up my back. I needed to....
A hand clapped over my mouth and my eyes shot wide open in alarm. I tried to shout, to call out for Mom and Dad, but couldn’t. I was trapped!
A scream built deep inside of me.
Jozlyn’s face suddenly appeared very close to mine. She looked like she’d been sleeping. Her long hair was a mess and her blue eyes were squinting. She knelt on the floor between our beds.
She took her hand from my mouth. “Something’s out there,” she hissed. By something, she meant someone. A witch.
I nodded stiffly. “Cleogha?”
Whoosh! The sound of bats zipped past again.
We both cringed at the noise. “Probably,” Jozlyn whispered, glancing apprehensively at the window.
The light hadn’t flickered this time but the noise had still come from somewhere close. Probably right over our house. Over our room. “We have to get Mom and Dad,” she said.
Staring hard at the ceiling as if I’d be able to see right through it and spot the witch on her broom, I slid from my bed and joined Jozlyn on the floor. She grabbed my hand with hers but I didn’t complain. Normally holding hands with your sister wasn’t very grown up, but this situation was different. I think it’s all right to hold your sister’s hand when a witch is flying over your house.
“Let’s go,” Jozlyn urged. She clutched Rosie in her other hand. I had to admit, even with the doll, Jozlyn was being rather brave.
Side by side, we scuttled on our hands and knees toward the open door. Neither of us liked to sleep with it completely closed.
Our house was small like most houses in Tiller’s Field and our parents weren’t rich. Dad worked in a bakery and Mom helped another lady make cloaks, dresses, tunics, and bodices. A tunic is a long shirt for boys or girls and a bodice is a kind of fancy vest that girls wear over their dresses.
In the evenings, we would all sit around the fireplace and listen to Dad tell stories about dragons, wizards, knights, and fair maidens held captive by goblins and trolls.
Dad had a great imagination. He’d sit in his big stuffed chair and entertain us for hours with his adventurous tales. I liked the scary ones best. Dad called them knightscares with a k. Kind of like nightmares only scarier.
Across from the fireplace was Mom and Dad’s room. Their door was open. That was odd. They always slept with it closed.
The house was silent. Even the whooshing of the witch’s broom had stopped.
I turned to Jozlyn with an inquisitive look on my face. She shrugged and nodded, sensing it, too. Something wasn’t right. The night had become too quiet.
As we inched forward, the floor creaked like a moaning spirit from one of dad’s stories and I froze.
“Ehh-he-he-he-he-heh!” The unmistakable sound of a witch’s cackle erupted in the quiet night.
My heart jumped into my throat, pounding wildly, and my insides shivered so hard I thought they’d become outsides.
Jozlyn whimpered softly and hugged Rosie to her chest. “In there,” she said, pointing a shaky finger at our parents’ bedroom.
She was right. The witch’s cackle had come from straight ahead. Through the open door to our parents’ room. Jozlyn and I climbed to our feet at the same time. We weren’t thinking about being brave. We just acted. The witch had our parents and it was up to Jozlyn and me to do something about it. We had to help.
We dashed into the dark bedroom and tripped on a blanket on the floor. It dragged us to the ground and I landed hard on my elbow with a bang. Jozlyn tumbled down on top of me.
I looked at our parents’ bed. I looked around the room. Both were empty.
Our parents were missing.
“Ehh-he-he-he-he-heh!” the witch cackled shrilly nearby.
End of the preview.
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Copyright © 2003 Sigil Publishing, Inc.
Buy Knightscares #1: Cauldron Cooker's Night