Trick or Treat
The children sat frozen on the couch. Lydia's heart pounded in her chest and the weight of her guilt seemed to press her deeper into the cushions. It was all her fault. She tried to stand, but her legs wouldn't cooperate.
Aunt Imelda frowned. "Where is Annika?"
Lydia cradled the cat and stood, but she couldn't manage to look at her aunt as she spoke. "It was me, Aunt Imelda." Her voice was breathy, barely above a whisper. "I read aloud something from one of your books and…" she closed her eyes and held up the cat. "Annika turned into a cat. I cast the spell. I didn't mean to do it. I'm… I'm sorry."
She could feel the eyes of everyone in the room on her, but still Lydia didn't look up. She was not yet the brave, formidable woman that she would become. Years later, she would look back on this moment as one that changed her life. But she didn't know any of that yet. All she felt was a shame so terrible she wanted to sink into the floor.
Aunt Imelda didn't yell. She didn't scream or reprimand or blame Lydia. In fact, she didn't do anything for so long and the room was so unbearably quiet that Lydia chanced a glance at her aunt.
Aunt Imelda's eyes held no anger, only compassion as she stared down at her twelve year old niece.
"Oh, my dear," she said. "How terribly you must be feeling. And how scared to deal with such an experience when you don't know what is going on. I wish you'd told me." She gently pried the cat out of Lydia's hands and held her up to inspect her. "And you, Annika. I should have known this was one of your gifts. I will teach you to use it in good time but for now, come back to your normal self, dear."
Warm light glowed between Aunt Imelda's palms as she set the cat on her feet. The light encompassed the cat and slowly the cat's body began to grow and change until Annika sat on the floor. Her hair was a little unkempt and her eyes still held a cat-like gleam, but she was once again a human girl.
Lydia let out a broken sound and fell to the floor next to her sister. She threw her arms around her sister's neck. "I'm so sorry," Lydia cried. "It's all my fault. I didn't mean to do it."
Annika put a hand on her younger sister's shoulder and squeezed. "I'm okay, Lydie. It was actually kind of fun."
"Well of course it was fun," Aunt Imelda huffed. "Lydia, show me the spell you read."
Lydia retrieved the book and flipped through the pages until she found the right one. "This is what I said." Lydia pointed to a line in the middle of the page.
Aunt Imelda scanned it and let out a snort. "As I thought," she muttered to herself. "You recited an unlocking spell. Makes sense…"
"An unlocking spell?" Ember repeated. She sat on the couch with her arms wrapped tightly around her body and her as wide as dinner plates.
Aunt Imelda scratched her head. "That alone shouldn't have been enough to undo the wards around the house…" She stood abruptly and left the room.
The children sat in silence as they listened to their aunt rummage through something in the other room.
"Does anyone else think this is crazy?" Juni asked. The other children didn't respond, too stunned and overwhelmed by the evening's events. "Just me, then."
Aunt Imelda came back into the room and handed Lydia a plain fuzzy green tennis ball. She flipped through the book and opened it to a new page. "Read these words," she instructed Lydia. "Concentrate on the ball."
Lydia squinted at the words and held the ball in her hands. She recited the words on the page, stumbling over the pronunciation. A bright flash, and when Lydia's vision cleared the ball was gone and in her hands was a small brown field mouse.
Lydia gasped and dropped the mouse, which bounced oddly against the floor before finding its footing and scurrying toward the kitchen.
Wyatt squealed and lifted his feet to the couch as it ran by. Annika looked for a moment as if she wanted to give chase, but stopped herself and settled back against the couch cushions.
"Amazing," Aunt Imelda breathed. "I have never seen such skills from one untrained." She looked at Lydia with a mixture of pride and awe. "Given the right training, you would be a very powerful witch."
Lydia's cheeks burned.
Aunt Imelda turned to the children sitting on the couch. "And you, Annika, Lydia didn't turn you into a cat, she just unlocked the powers you already possess." Her eyes scanned Ember, Juniper, and Wyatt. "I can't wait to see what powers you are going to discover in yourselves."
All of the children exchanged curious glances. "Do our parents have powers too?" Juni asked.
"Well, I don't know about Stephan and Daniel, but your mothers sure do," Aunt Imelda said. A look of irritation crossed her face. "Though if they haven't been using them, all these years then I'm betting they can't do much more than boil water. But in their youth, Laurel could transform herself into loads of different animals, and Celeste could whip up a potion in hours. Even the most complicated ones."
"So how come they never told us?" Ember wondered.
"What do I look like, some sort of answering machine?" Aunt Imelda huffed. "I don't have all the answers. If it were up to me, the lot of you would have been learning spells just the same as learning to walk. All I know is Celeste met Daniel and Laurel met Stephan and suddenly they weren't so keen to perform magic anymore. They called less and less and before you know it, it takes hours of pleading for your good old Aunt to get to spend some time with you."
"They never told us magic was real," Wyatt stated.
Aunt Imelda's shoulders dropped. "I'm not surprised, sweetheart."
"Wait," Juniper frowned. "An unlocking spell? You said Lydia undid wards around the house. Is that why those… those things broke into the attic?"
"Very astute, Juniper," Aunt Imelda beamed. "You are quite right. The house is protected by magical wards. There are all sorts of things that would like to gain entry into my library. And most of them would wish to do ill to our world. Those ghouls that you saw are attracted to magic residue."
"So it was my fault," Lydia murmured.
"You couldn't have known," Aunt Imelda said dismissively. "No real harm was done."
"So how do we get to find out about our powers?" Ember asked eagerly. "You said Mom was good at potions right? Could I try?"
"Of course, dear," Aunt Imelda said. "But not tonight. It is very late and you all have had enough excitement. Time for bed."
The children grudgingly obeyed and ascended the stairs back to the attic. When they arrived, all traces of the earlier conflict had vanished. The beds were neatly made and looked warm and inviting. The children climbed into their beds, suddenly overcome by the evening's excitement. Sleep made heavy their eyelids and gently quieted their buzzing minds.
"All the wards are back in place," Aunt Imelda said. "You are safe. Rest well. Tomorrow will bring with it its own adventures."
Indeed tomorrow would.
The children spent many summers with their Aunt Imelda, and some holidays and spring vacations too. They spent their days in the blue cottage in the forest going on adventures, and discovering magic within themselves that they had never imagined.
Years later, after all of their experiences, after they had all done good and remarkable things, they would look back on this night and smile. This was the night that their lives changed forever. This was the night that they realized they had magic within themselves of formidable and undiscovered depths.
The adventures of the Meadowsweet children are many, and they are marvelous, but tonight they sleep sweetly and dream of possibility.