Vampire sneaks into Bookrix

bookbaby WTV cover 2Yes, Stinkforth-upon-Avon’s most famous vampire has made it into the e-book market in a big way…well, according to Bookrix, she’s sneaked into the virtual world in about 60 different ways…so far without the slightest bit of blood-letting on anyone’s part.

Willow the Vampire’s short stories and one feature length adventure are now available on Bookrix.com and via ca. 60 other e-book outlets. Two short stories, just long enough for young readers to get their fangs into,  are also available under the book titles “An Embarrassment of Witches” and “To Hell with Bloodsuckers”. One of them is for free, how good is that?

It gets even better; as a bona fide Goodreads.com author this shameless self-promoting woman called Maria Thermann has made one whole juicy chapter available for young readers to sample for free.

Any creatures of the night out there now green with envy must bide their time until Maria’s laptop has caught up with all her other writing projects.

Happy summer reading everyone!

 

Taking Short-Cuts

bear on bikeIt’s been a very long time since I worked – still as an office slave – in London and now, that I’m staying here for a few months, I recalled how back in the 1980s and 1990s I used to walk everywhere in London because of constant bomb threats from the IRA. Frequently, underground stations would be closed for several hours at a time, making you either hopelessly late for work in the morning or delaying you to such an extent that train services back to sunny Surrey, where I used to live, would practically pack up and go home for the night before one managed to get back to Waterloo Station.

MonkWalkingJust as slowly as a medieval traveller on ox cart or on foot in air-conditioned sandals, the trusted cudgel by one’s side (which in my case tended to be a brolly), I would creep through the little rat runs and shortcuts of Soho to get back to Leicester Square and from there to Embankment, pushing through the crowds, the noise and the litter. Walking felt so much safer to me than taking the underground, even if it meant taking a risk in London’s dingy side streets.

Intellectual Short-Cuts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaking short-cuts in children’s writing is much harder to do, because their understanding of the world is less developed than that of adults. This has really hit home with me over the last few days, while I’m putting the finishing touches to my first German language novel for adults. When writing for grown-ups one merely needs to mention stiletto heels and the click-y-de-clack they make on the pavement and an adult reader will picture the type of person doing the walking perfectly. Finding child-sized short-cuts, as it were, is much harder.

If the writer takes examples from kid’s movies…those examples will date quickly…if one takes examples from classic literature kids might not have read those books yet. Be too long winded in the thing you want to say and kids throw your book away and head for a short-cut into the garden to play footie or go online to play games.

Travelling safely

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMedieval travellers, it strikes me, would probably have avoided taking short-cuts in real life, but they were masters at using metaphors in their paintings, illuminated books and swirly scrolls. Travelling was far too risky and best done in large numbers on well frequented routes.

monk with fishIf you wanted to get from castle A to fortress B, you joined a throng of pilgrims, preferably one with a few knights attached to their party, and hobbled along. Any creature of the night that might be tempted to drag you off to hell would think twice about attacking, for the throng of pilgrims might easily scare attackers off with a few well-aimed Hallelujahs, a punch on the nose and handy crosses aimed at the ghoul. Intellectual travelling, on the other hand, involved side-stepping a great deal of moral scrutiny, mostly from church leaders but also from an educated person’s peers.

What better way to avoid detection than using a few nifty metaphors of which only you and your mates knew the true meaning? Several hundred years later intellectual travellers looking at medieval paintings or books need an expert guide to help them find their way through the incomprehensible maze. Here taking short-cuts would have preserved the necks of those who painted or wrote something that the ruling order of the day did not approve of.

Getting lost in the Here and Now

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANegotiating the short-cuts we take in our stories thankfully no longer means trying to hide from the ruling classes for most of us – unless you live in a dictatorship or other type of evil regime. However, our writing short-cuts will be just as incomprehensive to future readers, no matter what age, if we go with the trendy phrases, the metaphors of Hollywood or TV. Yes, trying to please the “ruling classes” of current readerships is just as oppressive. Be a rebel, avoid the trendy and stick to the timeless!

What does that mean?

book00021 history book closesWell, if you want to describe a character in your book as somebody who’s easily led and superficial you could use the metaphor of gadgets, mobile phones perhaps or tablets…but remember, in just a few years’ time, a new generation may no longer understand what you’re talking about because technology moves on so quickly. If you’re aiming to write a book that will stand the test of time, especially in children’s and YA markets, and allow future armchair travellers to enjoy it just as much as readers would today, your short-cuts should be recognisable as such by future generations of readers.

A little moth-eaten around the Edges

The_Moth_Diaries_FilmPosterNo, I’m not talking about myself here! Although, admittedly the image staring back at me in my mirror could do with smoothing out, peeling off the old and pasting on a younger, fresher smile once in a while. At least you still have a mirror image, I hear the vampire enthusiast among you cry. You are right, one should always be grateful for small mercies in life and after-life.

Actually, my comment about being a bit moth-eaten around the edges was aimed at the movie “The Moth Diaries” which I finally got around watching last weekend when I wanted a break from writing chirpy travel articles about Spain and Portugal.

Although I’m not strictly saying that the film was boring – far from it – it just took such a long time getting round to what it wanted to say that I was tempted to shout “aren’t we there yet” at my laptop screen, like an impatient child sitting in the back of a car on her way to Harry Potter World.

I liked the moth element of this supernatural tale, which of course was chosen because it mirrored the protagonist’s happiest childhood memory; only the vampire knew how to twist and pervert this life-sustaining memory into something deadly and morbid.

Bela_Lugosi_as_Dracula,_anonymous_photograph_from_1931,_Universal_StudiosWhat I found interesting was the fact that this supernatural caper went back to the pre-Dracula days in the vampire genre when vamps where emotional life suckers rather than the blood-slurping variety. These are, of course, the type of vampires one is more likely to encounter in real life than the fangy Count D.

It made me think back of my school days and how certain types of people simply cannot bear to see others being friends or lovers without wanting to insinuate themselves into the middle and sucking the life out of that relationship.

Oddly enough, elements of the Transylvanian school of thought, as I call the emotional life sucker folklore, will be creeping into my 2nd Willow adventure too, although for the moment I have put this to the backburner to finish another book.

How do you prefer your creatures of the night? Biting with gusto into a throaty, full bloodied adventure or wheedling their way into the heart of the matter like a sly maggot?

 

(picture source Wikipedia: The Moth Diaries is a 2011 Irish-Canadian horror film directed by Mary Harron. It is based on a 2002 novel of the same name written by Rachel Klein)

Faeries, Faeries, quite contrary

flying pixie manDuring research for one of my WIPs I came across this lovely book “Faeries, Elves and Goblins – The Old Stories” by Rosalind Kerven, a National Trust book published under their Folklore banner. It not only has beautiful illustrations by Arthur Rackham and other acclaimed artists but also contains a very interesting collection of stories and a wealth of information about the Little People living under hills, in meadows and ancient groves.

I had never realised how wicked some faeries, goblins and elves could be – just read King Herla’s story or the plight of poor farm boy Tom Tiver, when he meets goblin Yallery Brown, and you’ll know what I mean!

Not all of these nightly creatures are wicked though and some are rather helpful to humans, provided said men, women and children are deserving of their magical interference. I also didn’t know how many different kinds of faeries existed in the folklore catalogue of mythical creatures populating the British Isles – there’s a veritable legion of them.

fairy on islandThanks to J K Rowling we all know about Cornish Pixies, and if you aren’t friends with Hermione Granger it’s probably not a good idea to invite a Cornish Pixie into your house for tea. But did you know there were pixie populations in Devon and Somerset, too? Would a Devon Pixie have a different accent than a Cornish one? Would a Somerset Pixie offer you a pint of scrumpy if you asked nicely?

Do you know what a Greenie or Grey Neighbour is or have you ever come across Henkies, Hobs or Hogmen before?

Hands up, who’s heard of Phynnodderees, Portunes or Trows? Ever come across the Siofra, Spriggans or Grogachs after a particularly boozy night out?

I’m especially intrigued by the stories that mention faerie folk living under hills and mountains, for it ties in with my research on Arthurian legends – not the medieval 12th and 13th century romantic versions we usually get to see on telly or on the silver screen, but the “real” 6th century AD legendary King Arthur and Merlin characters mentioned in various historical documents (which may be fictional accounts and not about real people at all but hey, us folklore fanatics take what we can get).

To me, faeries belong to the Dark Ages, the time when the Romans had left the British Isles and Britons had to fend for themselves – and according to legends, Arthur and Merlin were probably the last remaining defenders of the Celtic way of life, before the invading Saxons and their nasty new-fangled religion destroyed the magic that had once permeated every aspect of Brythonic life. King Herla’s story in particular stands out – it’s almost as if the storyteller is referring to the Romans, making them faerie folk who promised a land of golden opportunity, patronage, friend-and kinship and then simply vanishing into thin air.

excalibur out of waterSo if you want to learn more about these mischievous creatures of the night, these laughing, chanting, giggling dancers and musicians with their gem encrusted halls, their faerie gold and silver bells, their colourful clothes and strange sense of humour, have a peek at Rosalind Kerven’s book. It’s perfect night time reading material.

 

(source for animations: heathersanimations.com)

Message from an absent Friend

book92 with quill and inkI really must apologise for not having posted for such a long time – work commitments and moving out of my home office and into a proper office/artists’ studio have all taken their toll. I’m generally getting up at 4am and start work soon after…YAWN.

Normal blogging services will resume next month, when I’ve had a chance to write up new themes I want to tackle for this blog.

To the person”O” who left a message, wondering how to set up his/her own children’s book of 28 pages: I’ve used createspace.com to publish my first Willow novel as one can choose lots of different templates depending on what size one wants for a book. They also have templates for covers that allow you to upload your own photographs or artwork. The print quality is very good.

Before deciding on a suitable size for your children’s book, go to your library or book store and see what established writers have used for a book aimed at the same age range. Take a ruler or tape measure with you and write down the size of the books you liked best; don’t forget to count the words on each page, if you’re planning to publish a picture book for the same age range. This will make sure you won’t end up with more than 2 empty pages, which is all Createspace allows you to have.

If any of you writers out there have used lulu.com or other such self-publishing services you were very happy with, perhaps you can let us know and give us tips. Createspace have their own community of writers giving handy tips and I used that extensively, while setting up my own book.

until the next time…

Ghost_househugs from an absent friend and fellow creature of the night

(and NO, what you see to your right is NOT my new office address!)

 

Ghostly Paths through dark Forests

ghost in white sheetThroughout history unusual features in the landscape have sent human imagination into overdrive, spawning legends, fairy-tales and myths. I’d like to use the next couple of blog posts to investigate this super-charged landscape issue a little further.

 

My first candidate for natural phenomena are Hohlwege, the German word for well-trodden paths that have literally been hollowed out by generations of feet, hooves and paws as well as by rain and wind, taking several centuries to mature into their creepy and myth-inspiring selves. Such footpaths lead through fields, forests and mountains and typically connect ancient market towns and places of worship and are usually found close to popular pilgrim routes.

 

So close your eyes and imagine you’re on your way to a medieval market to sell your farm produce. Turnips, onions and beets anyone?

 

Travelling through Germany’s Mecklenburg in your top-of-the-range oxcart, you’ll come across a forested area called Hohenzieritz Woods, which sits in spooky silence between the towns of Penzlin and Hohenzierlitz. The ancient Iserputt footpath or Hohlweg snakes through the wood, where it leads overgrown and hollowed out by the weather, with deep and muddy cart tracks left by a hundred generations of market traders just like you and your team of pretty oxen, to the nearest place to sell your wares.

 

Vampire-bats-animatedMake haste and drive on your team of oxen, for at midnight twelve gleaming white men carrying a black coffin will appear out of nowhere and they just might select you as their number thirteen!

 

We can only imagine with what urgency travellers raced along the Iserputt path, their sandals flying over sticks and stones, their feet splashing through mud-filled puddles and their heads full of ghostly apparitions out to get them for whatever sin their superstitious medieval minds could conjure up!

 

Another legend has it an old man on a cart travelled on this path in the middle of the day. Without warning, the cart came to a halt and his horses refused to take another step. The old man got off his cart and went to investigate the source of the delay. He found a tall, black figure on the back of his cart, laughing wildly and terrifying the horses. The old man was furious to have a stranger mocking him, so he whacked the apparition with his whip. To the old man’s surprise the apparition disappeared and his horses took him and his cart from that place as fast as their hooves would go.

 

Ghost below the Sunset?

 

Ghosts, as one rather rude and ignorant blog reader informed me the other day, “do not exist, you idiots”. I dare to disagree! They may not be Caspar and Co. zipping down the corridor in some abandoned mansion or the Ghost of Canterbury having a score to settle with a new set of occupants, but ghosts are likely to exist in our traditions and belief systems we inherit from our forbearers and that makes them very real to us.

 

English: A ghostly Black Dog.

 

As long as humans believe in a soul surviving death, there will be talk of ghosts…they exist in our minds because they might represent our guilty conscience of unfinished business with the dear departed or our longing to see loved ones again or simply express our own hope that there’s life after death despite scientific proof that we’re just ending up as worm fodder.

 

Deutsch: Die Burg Penzlin (Landkreis Müritz, M...

Deutsch: Die Burg Penzlin (Landkreis Müritz, Mecklenburg). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Imagine you’re an uneducated peasant working the fields surrounding Castle Penzlin in Mecklenburg, bringing in your hay in medieval Europe. The drudgery of day-to-day life must have been unbearable for an intelligent, but uneducated person of the lower ranks. How better to while away the time while making hay than to invent little stories about the things that occur in our surroundings – natural or supernatural phenomena, if that’s what you believe.

 

ghostly images in graveyardWhen we see mist rising up from the heated soil after a long, hot day in summer is cooled down by sudden rain, we can easily imagine ghostly spirits are leaving the ground in protest. Morning mist swirling upwards and gathering in clouds around the summits of hills and mountains, the wind changing and moulding their shapes into fantastical apparitions, are perfect candidates for souls rising up to heaven, while pea-soupers in historic towns are bound to be a demon’s breath robbing us of our sense of direction, trying to lure us into a trap.

 

Hohlwege

Hohlwege (Photo credit: crobgun)

 

Naturally, I’m going to use this spooky landscape feature called Hohlwege in my upcoming novel Willow the Vampire and the Wuerzburg Ghosts. Are there any mysterious features in the landscape near you that might inspire a ghostly tale or two?

 

An Embarrassment of Witches

Willow pic twoI promised the real Willow, the little girl who is the inspiration for my Willow the Vampire stories, her very own New Year’s story, so here it is and hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it!

An Embarrassment of Witches

 

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Darren’s brown eyes widened at the sight of his best friend’s costume. “You’re going to the New Year’s party dressed in THAT?”

Willow sighed. “That’s all they had left at the costume hire shop. Mum took one look at me and burst out laughing…as for Dad, he almost had a fit. I wished I could check what it looks like in the mirror. Is it really that hideous?”

“You’d be better off going as yourself…unless THIS is your real self,” Darren dropped into a comfortable rocking chair by the fire and studied the pink vision in front of him.

“Very funny, Darren Taylor! What am I going to do? There’s no time to make a different outfit by tonight. The invitation says people not in costume will be turned away. It’s my party; I can’t break my own rules!”

“You know Felicity will never let you forget this?”

Flopping into a worn leather sofa Willow buried her face into furry paws. “Don’t remind me! Botheration, I so wanted tonight to be a success.”

A grin spread across Darren’s face. Sounding remarkably like their headmaster’s daughter, he said in a squeaky voice: “Oh my, Willow Band, we have discovered a new species! Our village will be in every newspaper!”

Willow pulled a face. “All my old friends from vampire infant school have been invited. Compared to the things they’re going to say about my sudden fluffiness, Felicity’s comments will be positively refreshing.” Willow groaned, when she saw the expression on Darren’s face. “You’re right; she’ll never let me forget it. I’m doomed!”

“Oh come on, you’ve got to see the funny side. Besides, it’s only one night out of your life; it’s not the end of the world. By the way, isn’t it rather uncomfortable sitting on that…erm…thing on your back? You might want to take it off until later.”

Willow reached behind her and extracted her tail. “Oh, I squashed it. It was a lot fluffier when I put on the suit,” she wailed. “Can’t I get anything right? I’m a failure as a vampire AND I suck at being a carrot-nibbler. Just look at me, I’m a great fat, fluffy joke!”

“Hey, don’t give up before you have explored all your options. Perhaps we could make you look a little more…uh…dangerous?”

“Exactly how many Barbie-pink, blood-sucking bunnies have you met in your life, Darren?”

There was really no answer to that. Darren got up and began to prowl the room, absentmindedly fingering the ornaments on the little table by the window, pulling out books from the shelf by the fireplace and upsetting the cat by treading on its bowl of biscuits. Willow watched her pet Bartholomeaow inspect the carpet in disgust, his favourite fish-flavoured dinner now spread out all over Willow’s floor. A heavy sigh escaped Willow, temporarily halting Darren’s pacing.

“I could wear my beasty face and show my fangs…that would make me look more…grrrrr,” the large pink bunny on the sofa said wretchedly. The grandfather clock in the hallway struck 4 o’clock, only two more hours before the first guests were expected to arrive! Willow pulled off her furry paw gloves and sank deeper into the sofa cushions in an effort to disappear.

“Maybe…if I put on some bear claws instead of these things?” She said without much enthusiasm and looked pleadingly at her friend. “I’m a vampire, a blood-thirsty fiend; I can’t go out there dressed like this!”

Darren stopped his prowling abruptly. He turned the book he held in his hands with an air of surprise and puzzlement, until he realised he had picked it up during his travels around the room. His eyebrows rose when he read the title. It was a children’s book called The little Witch by Willow’s favourite writer Ottfried Preussler.

“I think I may have an idea but we’ll need our friend Rita’s help. There’s nothing like a little witchcraft to spice up a party!” An expression of mischief mingled with determination to help his friend stole across Darren’s face and for the first time that afternoon Willow felt more hopeful, her party might still be a success.

Two hours later the first guests arrived and Darren showed them into the living room, where a table groaning with yummy food and lots of lemonade awaited them. Decorated with left-over glitter from Christmas and a few shrunken heads from the novelty shop in the village, the white table cloth showed off nicely most of Willow’s favourite things to eat. Her mum had done her proud, for nobody could possibly feel left out.

There were pumpkin pies, cheese cake and chocolate muffins for Willow’s human friends, a tray with slices of fried black pudding, barbequed fingers and boiled eyeballs just right for vampires, and for her cat Bartholomeaow there was a large plate of tuna. Next to a jug of home-made lemonade Willow spotted a decanter of spiced blood wine, her absolute favourite drink. Naturally, this wasn’t real wine but cranberry juice, since her mum had prepared it for a children’s party and not for grown-ups, but the other ingredients were just the same, a dash of blood from those nasty bankers in the High Street spiced up with plenty of cinnamon, ginger and cloves from old Mrs Edward’s market stall.

Darren, dressed as a blood-thirsty pirate, waited by the front door and greeted every new friend on Willow’s behalf, directing them to the living room, where Willow waited on a small pedestal behind a red velvet curtain. She felt rather silly, standing there like a statue on a market square about to be unveiled to an astonished public, or a supermarket gimmick or juggler in a shopping mall but having mulled over Darren’s plan from every angle, she felt there was little choice but to go through with it.

Verruca and Maximilian Snaggletooth, two vampire cousins from London, entered the hallway with a flourish and much noise. They were both dressed as noblemen from Venice, with lace collars, stockings and breeches, embroidered silk coats and wide-brimmed hats to which they had affixed ostrich feathers. They felt their rich clothes made it right and proper for them to inspect Willow’s country cottage with their noses high up in the air. Their high-pitched voices discussed the threadbare carpet and medieval hall mirror of questionable origin, when the next wave of guests arrived. Willow sighed, bracing herself for more nasty comments. Her cousins had only been invited because Willow’s dad had insisted on it.

Willow’s cottage couldn’t compete with the grand houses her city cousins lived in, but it was her home and at least she didn’t have to put up with the constant noise of wailing police sirens and passers-by throwing rubbish into their garden. The day her parents had packed their belongings into a removal van and decided from now on they’d be living in the village of Stinkforth-upon-Avon had been the happiest day of Willow’s life. While Verruca discussed the lack of bathrooms in the cottage and Maximilian moaned about the faded wallpaper in the living room, Willow reminded herself that rural Stinkforthshire County had many advantages, especially its great distance from London, making visits by her cousins a rare treat.

Unable to resist the temptation of a mysterious curtain at the far end of the living room, Verruca and Maximilian peeped through a gap in the heavy fabric. When they spotted their country cousin, they howled with laughter. Impatient as ever, Willow’s cousins pulled back the curtain with an amusing cry of Tallyho.

“I annoyed a passing witch. A powerful spell, I’m afraid.” Willow said confidentially, ignoring her cousins’ toothy grins. She raised her paws in a mock gesture of attack. “Grrrruesome claws, I tell you.”

“You look about as scary as my grandmother’s bed socks.” Verruca sniffed. “Mind you, the whiff coming from your feet’s just as gruesome, I grant you that.”

Maximilian tried to pull one of Willow’s long ears but she slapped his wrist. “On the stroke of midnight things will really kick off. I’ll turn into this horrible – “ Willow raised her paws dramatically, “this horrible, grrrrrrrreat big beasty. And after that things will just go from bad to worse. What am I going to do, if I can’t break the spell? Spring’s just around the corner. Warmer weather, bumble bees, primroses and tulips, the usual dangers to our kind.” Willow sighed deeply and smoothed out her fur.

Baffled, Verruca and Maximilian said in one voice. “But we’re vampires – we don’t feel heat or cold…why should you be worried about spring time, insects and a few flowers?”

Willow shook her head, allowing her ears to flop around her chin. She gestured for her cousins to come closer and whispered: “Shshsh, not so loud…somebody might hear you…it simply won’t do upsetting the Easter Bunny. He’s the Black Hare’s best friend.” She twitched her whiskers knowingly and straightened her shoulders. “The Vampire Council of 1837 could tell you a tale that would make your blood curdle and your fangs fall out.”

Maximillian shrank back, but Verruca was not easily impressed. She snorted dismissively: “Upsetting the Easter Bunny, are you mad? We’re blood-sucking fiends; we’re not scared of anybody!”

“Oh, but you should be! I guess your parents thought you were too young to hear such a grizzly tale. Ah well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Oh look…more guests!”

Willow turned away quickly before Verruca could think of a suitable reply; new guests had arrived in the hallway. Willow craned her neck and caught a glimpse of Felicity, dressed as a witch! By the look on Darren’s face, Willow could tell he was as surprised by this latest development as she was. Felicity stood in front of the hall mirror, straightening out her long blond hair before finally adjusting her high hat, made from black felt and sheets of thin cardboard that had once held quantities of their headmaster’s favourite breakfast cereal. The wide brim partially shaded her face, so Willow couldn’t tell Felicity’s reaction to the sight of the living room table laden with some of Felicity’s favourite cakes.

Felicity was accompanied by a tall dark-haired boy, who was dressed as a warlock in purple robes. From the way she abruptly turned her back on the boy and now hovered by the mirror far longer than was necessary, Willow guessed Milo had tried to impress Felicity with the choice of his costume but Felicity did not like what she saw. She was clearly trying to avoid entering the living room on her own, as this would give Milo a fresh opportunity to talk to her. Undeterred, Milo tried to catch her attention by waving a golden wand at every new arrival entering the hall. A bunch of spring flowers shot out from the wand’s business end whenever Milo cried the words “sim sala bim”.

Darren, who was handing out glasses of lemonade to the new arrivals, could barely keep a straight face, when two of the guests, Romanticus Spitfire and Evangeline Eagleye from Dartford, responded with a heartfelt “Gesundheit” and hurried into the living room before another bout of Milo’s floral magic could block their way.

Felicity remained in the hallway, apparently admiring her witch’s costume in the medieval mirror, leaving Milo no choice but to enter the living room on his own. Willow decided to take pity on her. Now that Willow’s curtain disguise was blown, she might as well step down from her pedestal and join her party guests. She hopped down on the Turkish carpet and waved a furry pink arm at Felicity, who turned and stared open mouthed at the vampire-turned-fluffy-bunny.

“I annoyed a passing witch. A powerful enchantment, I’m afraid.” Willow explained in response to Felicity’s wide eyed wonder. Willow strolled into the hall and linked her furry arm through Felicity’s, not forgetting to express admiration for the silver threaded cross stitching on the blonde witch’s dress, before Felicity had a chance to make a cutting remark about Willow’s fluffy white tail.

Willow was starting to enjoy Felicity’s polite refusal to comment on her costume, but the sight of Milo’s purple warlock costume and Willow’s plush generosity when they reached the living room table finally got the better of Felicity. She cocked her head to one side and studied Willow’s pink fur.

“Before Daddy dropped me off outside your house, we saw Farmer Edward’s son heading this way. He was dressed as a forester with a gun to frighten the living daylights out of Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf. I seem to remember a great big knife dangling off his belt, just right for skinning bunnies. Aren’t rabbit collars terribly fashionable this winter? You might want to change into something less…uh…tempting?”

“Don’t be deceived by my pink appearance. I assure you, a blood-thirsty monster lives within this fur.” Ignoring Felicity’s snort, Willow planted her furry feet firmly in front of her and picked up a plate. “Just wait until midnight. Then the second part of the spell kicks in. Ah…I’d better have some cake before I’m tempted to eat one of my guests.”

Willow heaped enormous slices of cheese cake onto two plates and held one out to Felicity. “A magical remedy. Apparently eating cheese cake stops killer rabbits from turning really nasty. Speaking of sorcery, I see you chose your costume to match Milo’s magical theme.  I bet he’s thrilled. What legendary people are you meant to be…Merlin and Melinda Hogroast? I heard they were a delightful couple.”

Before Felicity’s growl could transform into a cry of protest, a helpful Willow recalled a few more magical characters: “No wait, I’ve got it! You’re Magwitch the Mad and he’s Houdini’s sidekick whatshisname…Bertie the Hopeless, that’s the one! Or perhaps you’re the German witch famous for her terrible warts…no? Then you’re Hekate and Milo is Taliesin, the Welsh wizard with a taste for leaks and a wand full of daffodils!”

“I’m Demdike and Milo’s dressed as James Device. We’re characters from the Pendle witch trials, which you’d know if you paid attention in history class,” Felicity snapped. She snatched the plate of cheese cake and turned on her heels, darting off towards the velvet curtain and the little pedestal, where Willow had planned to hide until the party’s great surprise was ready to be sprung on her guests.

Darren and Farmer Edward’s son entered the living room; to her dismay Willow saw he really had dressed up as a fierce forest ranger. They were joined by Romanticus Spitfire and Evangeline Eagleye; the former was dressed like a knight, while the latter was regrettably also dressed as a witch. Before Darren had a chance to talk to them, both vampires drifted towards the table where the platter with barbequed fingers occupied their attention.

“Nice to see you again, Willow.” Georgie, Farmer Edward’s son, was far too polite to notice the colour rising on Willow’s cheeks matched her fur. He reached into a satchel on his back and produced a glass of home-made jam. “Mum sends you this. She said you like this stuff.”

“Strawberries! I adore them. Thank you very much.” Willow beamed at him. “Look, Georgie drew a picture of his parent’s farm for the label. Cool. I like the way you’ve caught the light on the barn and fields.”

Acknowledging Georgie’s drawing with a polite growl, Darren turned his attention to the latest newcomers’ costumes. Romanticus wore real armour that looked incredibly heavy and shiny. Evangeline’s costume consisted of a long black robe over a dark red skirt and shirt. Just like Felicity she wore a tall black hat with a wide brim. She carried a broom on her back, which she had attached to a leather strap and slung over her shoulder. A dead bat dangled from a silver necklace around her neck and she’d attached a fake wart to her chin. Darren sidled over to the table and stood next to her.

“So Willow’s rather fond of strawberries? Is that a fruit humans use to calm bunny-monsters?” Evangeline dug her bony elbow playfully into Darren’s ribs and grinned, the wart wobbling dangerously on her chin.

“Sometimes, but more often than not we use chocolate.” Darren tugged at Evangeline’s broom. “Good job you brought this. We may need it at midnight, when the second part of Willow’s spell sets in.”

“Don’t be silly, Willow’s not enchanted, she’s wearing this stupid pink outfit because she’s gone soft on humans. I have no doubt when the Vampire Council hears of this, she’ll be expelled or something. De-fanged probably. Ridiculous lie, who’s ever heard of witches casting spells in parts?”

“But that’s where you wrong; this particular witch does things quite differently. Compared to her you look positively cuddly, if you don’t mind me saying so. You should have seen her out there in the forest…it was terrifying. We were out for a stroll, when we stumbled into her lair.” Darren drew closer, his brows drawn together in an effort to remember every detail of his ordeal. “The forest witch wore robes made from squashed human skulls, her hat was made from a hundred live snakes and her boots were snarling wolves’ heads.”

Darren paused for effect. Other children began to gather around them. He noticed Romanticus hung on his every word, but detected a flicker of doubt in Evangeline’s eyes and so hurried to complete his tale. “The witch rode a black stallion, a brute of a horse with fiery nostrils and stinky breath that would stop a stampeding herd of buffalo in their tracks, but Willow mocked the witch, saying she wasn’t scary at all. To prove she wasn’t frightened, Willow offered breath mints to the witch’s horse. At this the witch got very angry and drew her wand; she yelled: Be cursed for your impudence, child! On the stroke of five o’clock you shall turn into the feeble bunny that you are at heart, but at midnight…I’ll turn you into the meanest, ugliest, most brutal creature this world has ever known.”

Romanticus eyed him nervously. “W-Wha-what’s that?”

“The Black Hare!” Willow and Darren whispered as one.

“The B-B-Black Hare?”

“His razor-sharp claws are so long, he can slice a boy in half with one swipe of his paw.” At the sound of Willow’s voice the room fell silent. “When the Black Hare doesn’t get his favourite food, he gets very angry…and he stops time! Just think…no more Easter…no more Christmas…no birthdays and no New Year’s Eve…EVER! Just you and the Black Hare for all eternity.”

“Wha-what’s his favourite food?” Felicity breathed.

“Children!”

“His fangs are so fearsome, they give sharks nightmares and tigers roll over like kittens at the mere sight of them.” Darren peered over his shoulders, first left, then right, before slowly turning to the curtains at the rear of the room. He raised his hand and pointed with trembling fingers to the small pedestal. “That’s the exact spot where the Black Hare will appear.”

In the hall the grandfather clock struck the eleventh hour. Evangeline and Romanticus gasped. How could this be, they’d only just arrived? Verruca and Maximilian shifted nervously in their lace collars and tiptoed away from the table to get some distance between them and the ill-fated pedestal. Milo, Felicity and Georgie, who had drawn near, repeated the terrible words to all who would listen and within moments everyone at the party knew, at the stroke of midnight the Black Hare would seal their fate!

More guests arrived. A gaggle of children dressed as witches arrived from Telegraph Hill, a favourite South East London district for vampires with an artistic streak. There were short and fat witches, tall and skinny ones, bulky, muscular witches Willow vaguely recalled from her vampire infant school days and one brown-haired teenage witch in a shabby dress whom nobody remembered at all. Ignoring the hushed whispers of her party guests Willow handed a welcoming glass of blood wine to each new arrival and wondered if Darren’s plan was really going to work.

If only she’d been able to explain about her ridiculous outfit, how she’d been so busy sorting out her mother’s birthday present and surprise party, which was to be held in January, she’d forgotten to telephone the hire shop and reserve a New Year’s Eve party costume for herself. When Willow had finally remembered, the pink bunny suit with the long ears and the white fluffy tail was the only costume the shopkeeper had left. Naturally, Willow couldn’t explain this to her guests – her mum was flitting through the room, refilling glasses, heaping more food on the platters on the table; she would most certainly catch her daughter’s words. A surprise party with all her mum’s friends! How could Willow possibly spoil that? It had taken her weeks to write all the invitations in secret!

Willow swallowed her pride and endured the mean comments every new arrival made at the sight of her silly costume. Some pulled at her ears and some took the liberty of tugging her tail. Her response to every single guest remained the same: “Just wait until midnight. That’s when the second part of the spell kicks in.”

The new arrivals would soon hear the rest of the sinister tale…and wherever Willow looked guests were huddling together, looking worried as soon as the Black Hare was mentioned.

“I think that went rather better than expected,” Darren said quietly beside her. He rubbed his hands together and chuckled. “Now for the rest of my cunning plan.”

“Except your plan didn’t involve dozens of witches turning up! How am I going to find the right one, when the lights go out?”

Darren acted surprised. “And there’s me thinking vampires have super night vision. I forgot…you’re really a fluffy bunny at heart.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “Don’t you start! I’ve been enduring comments about my cuddliness all evening. It’s enough to make my grandmother Vampira the Ferocious turn in her grave.”

Darren shuddered. “From the tone of your voice I’m guessing she’s revolving in her coffin as we speak.” He took a look around the room. “You’re right; we do suffer from an embarrassment of witches this evening. I hadn’t counted on so many people choosing the same costume.” He twirled the ends of his fake moustache thoughtfully. “Never mind, I’ll think of something. It’s time you sneaked back to your place behind the curtain.”

While Willow tiptoed into hiding behind the backs of her party guests, Darren put the second part of his plan into action. He drew the sword dangling from a broad belt around his waist and challenged the noble knight Romanticus to a duel. The sound of clashing wooden swords and the cries of the fighting boys caught everyone’s attention. The Black Hare was forgotten, and a small crowd circled the boys. The vampires cheered for Romanticus and the village children rooted for Darren to win.

Unbeknown to her friends, Willow took up position on the pedestal once more. Darren had previously arranged the curtains in such a fashion that neither the left nor the right side of the alcove in which the pedestal stood could be seen. Two large mirrors would reflect back whatever scary pictures Rita’s film projector would show on the wall behind. Willow chuckled. In the hall the grandfather clock struck the midnight hour. All lights went out. A united gasp from her guests told Willow the scene was set for her great performance. She wondered briefly how well Darren and Rita’s plan would work, since there’d been no time to try the trick before the party, but she guessed finding out was just part of the fun. Darren’s idea to put the clock forward was brilliant, Willow thought with a final snigger.

At the last stroke of the clock an eerie howl rose in the chimney and filled the house. The party guests shrieked and tried to find cover. Some crawled under the table, others climbed into the closet under the stairs. Caught in the middle of flight by a dark mass that seemed to drip from the fireplace and spread across the floor like a pool of blood, Verruca and Maximilian froze on the spot and threw their arms around each other.

“Please don’t eat us! We’re vampires and wouldn’t taste nice at all. Why not try a few of the humans, they look quite tasty?” Verruca tried to joke but the wobble in her voice gave her away.

The sinister dark thing grew in size and rose up in front of the hearth. The ghostly shadow turned into tall witch. White skulls were grinning at them from her robes; flame red hair framed a pale green face that seemed to glow in the dark. Maximilian shuddered, when her hat began to hiss and spit fiery sparks. He clung closer to his sister and hoped her broad hat would shield him from the witch’s stare.

The witch raised her arms and said in a booming voice: “I beseech you dark spirits! Bring forth the Black Hare so that he may feast on these idle children!”

Everyone screamed. Thunder and lightning followed. Ringlets of smoke began to rise from the witch’s hat, her voice still ringing in everyone’s ears. “Show yourself, oh mighty Black Hare!”

A flash of lightning illuminated Willow who, standing straight as an arrow on her pedestal, began to grow taller and taller; now she towered over her friends and her fur appeared longer, shaggier and darker. Willow raised her arms into the air and another flash of lightning revealed to her guests the unmistakable, horrible truth that long claws were sprouting from her paws.

“Blimey, Rita wasn’t kidding. That’s amazing.” Darren gasped. In his wildest dreams he hadn’t expected Willow’s friend to pull off such a fantastic magic trick! Mirrors and smoke can work wonders, Rita had said.

Judging by the screaming and shouting, he felt Willow’s party guests had probably had enough of a good thing. Darren decided to switch the lights back on, but he discovered the switch no longer worked. He flipped the switch up and down but the old fashioned chandelier dangling from the ceiling remained dark and distinctly “un-glowy”. The fireplace was the only light source in the room. Over by the curtain the Willow-monster had nearly grown to twice its size. It stepped down from the pedestal and walked with wobbly steps towards the screaming party guests.

“Make it stop!” Felicity begged and dived behind the sofa.

“I’m too young to die!” Maximillian echoed his sister Verruca’s cry.

“Don’t be silly. You’re vampires. You cannot die!” Evangeline hissed, clearly determined to show good sense. She somewhat spoiled the effect by climbing on a chair and lifting her robes to reveal two plump ankles and a hole in her socks.

“It’s the Black Hare, you fool, not a mouse!” Georgie raised his gun and aimed it at the Willow-monster, temporarily forgetting his weapon would spout nothing more life-threatening than water. “You’re not feasting on me, Black Bunny! Go back to where you came from.” He squirted water at the ghostly creature, but it simply ignored Georgie’s gun.

The Black Hare chased him around the table instead. After the second sprint around the table, a breathless Georgie reached into his satchel and produced another glass of his mother’s jam. He held it out with shaking hands. “There’s a good little bunny; you like strawberries, remember? Please don’t eat me. Take the jam!”

Grunting and growling the Black Hare ignored the jam and stumbled about the living room, upsetting chairs and knocking over the table lamp. The Willow-monster chased after her guests one by one, driving them here and there, finally cornering them in the hall. The terrified party guests tried to open the front door, but it was locked. Over the din of growling, shouts and shrieks, Darren heard the grandfather clock strike the hour. On the last stroke of one o’clock the lights came back.

Darren tried to calm everyone down. Some were crying, others were too upset to speak and simply sank onto the sofa by the hearth, where no trace of the sinister witch remained. Darren looked around – where on earth was the Black Hare?

At the far end of the room, a pink and rather dazed bunny sat on the pedestal with her face buried in her paws. Darren hurried over to her.

“Just look at it, my party is ruined! How could Rita go so far?” Willow sniffed.

“But I didn’t! This mess –“ Rita stepped out from behind the curtains and gestured around the room with her broom stick, “is not my doing!”

Willow studied her friend’s face and realised she spoke the truth. The Christmas sparklers in Rita’s hat were still smouldering but the green glitter Darren had painted on her face earlier had started to peel off. She looked just as scared as everybody else.

“Then who did this? It really looked as if you were turning into the Black Hare!”

“Darren, there’s no such thing as the Black Hare, we made him up, remember?”

Darren sank onto the pedestal next to Willow and scratched his head. “But if Rita didn’t conjure him up, then who did? There’s a whole room full of witches, anyone of them could be the culprit.

Willow stared at the assortment of witches before her and asked herself the same question. Which one of these harmless looking girls had terrified her guests and why? She studied every pointy hat and pale face in turn, but apart from ticking clueless Felicity off her list of wrong-doers Willow couldn’t think how she could possibly unmask a magical being.

At that moment Willow’s mum Alice entered the room, casually picking up a chair here and there and smoothing quite a few ruffled feathers among the guests with the promise of ice cream and pizza. Helping her clear up the mess was none other than the teenage witch with the brown hair and the shabby dress. The girl winked at Willow and Darren. Willow’s mum joined her daughter at the far end of the room.

“My New Year’s present to you, Willow. Thanks for inviting Miriam and her family to my surprise birthday party in January. They are some of my oldest friends. Miriam’s so looking forward to it…in fact, she was so excited she rang me and thanked me before she remembered it was supposed to be a secret.” Willow’s mum said quietly.

Alice ran her fingers through Willow’s brown hair. “Miriam is the finest witch in her class and I’m very fond of her. Miriam doesn’t get out much, what with her mum being ill and her twin brothers still in nappies, she has too many chores. Most people just forget about Miriam and her family, because they’re poor. But not you.”

Willow’s eyes widened. “She told you about the surprise party? And I was so careful, hiding the invitations under the stairs until they were ready to be sent and telephoning people when you were out! All my hard work wasted.” Willow frowned. “How did you find out about our magic trick tonight? Are you a mind-reader? You seem to know simply everything.”

“It’s my job to know everything, I’m your mum!” Alice said, a smile stealing across a face. “Besides, the man from the novelty shop rang and said if you didn’t reserve a costume by the 29th December, he could only give you a bunny costume that nobody else wanted to hire.”

Willow digested this news. “So…you arranged for Miriam the wonder-witch to come here tonight?”

“All part of the service. Mums-R-Us were happy to oblige.”

“But Mum…your birthday surprise is spoiled!”

Alice planted a kiss on Willow’s nose. “Don’t fret. Since I don’t know who else you’ve invited, it’s still going to be a surprise and besides, I regard this little magic trick of Darren and Rita’s as part of my birthday treat. It was very entertaining the way everybody ran for their lives.”

Willow sighed. “I wished all my party guests would see it that way, but I guess it’s a vampire thing.”

Darren grinned. “Nonsense! A little exercise is good for humans; now there’s more room for pizza and ice cream. They deserved a little scare; they were all guilty of making fun of you.” He got up and strolled over to the guests, who were each blaming the other for the mess in the living room. Darren stopped and bowed before Miriam, before introducing her to everyone, praising her for her fine magical performance that night. The young witch beamed, when a round of applause greeted her.

When Willow’s guests heard the appearance of the Black Hare had been part of the evening’s entertainment, they took it much better than expected; in fact, Verruca and Maximilian went to bed a few hours later, claiming it had been the best party they’d ever been to in their lives. As always, Felicity was the last guest to leave.

“I knew right away it was some kind of party trick,” Felicity said, when she put on her coat. Her father was already waiting in the car outside. “I mean…there’s no such thing as real witchcraft and it’s all done with mirrors and smoke.”

Willow merely grinned and handed her guest her gloves and scarf.

“Anyway, who’s ever heard of the Black Hare? It was just a ruse to stop us from making fun of your silly costume, wasn’t it, Willow Band?”

“Absolutely!” Willow said and extended one furry paw. Felicity eyed it suspiciously but shook it when it showed no sign of ferocious claws.

“Only the Easter Bunny knows the real identity of the Black Hare, but so far he’s not given it away.” Willow added with a toothy grin that showed both her fangs.

Felicity squeaked and shot through the front door with her witch’s robes billowing behind her, her wide-brimmed hat barely clinging on to her long tresses as she ran down the garden path and scrambled into her father’s car. Willow gave her a cheerful wave and turned to find Darren eating his final chocolate muffin of the day.

“You can stop making your beasty face now,” Darren said with his mouth full as he headed up the stairs. “The show’s over, Bunnikins, and I’m going to bed. Thank your mum again for letting me stay over. Maximilian had better not snore.”

“If he does, just whisper in his ear Bring forth the Black Hare so that he may feast on these idle children and I guarantee you, Maximilian will stop.”

She watched her friend climb the stairs and locked the front door, before switching off the lights in the hall. Only the dying embers of the fireplace lit her path up the stairs. Willow smiled to herself when the grandfather clock struck midnight, this time genuinely. She was looking forward to her bed and couldn’t wait to take off her silly costume. Willow reached the upstairs landing with a big yawn and stretched her tired arms above her head. At the end of the long passage her mum had left a candle burning, so Darren and the other kids sleeping over would find their way. Willow smiled. Her mum really thought of everything. Willow had just decided she’d buy her mum a big bunch of flowers to thank her for helping with the New Year’s party that day, when a loud crack startled her and she turned on her heel.

It had come from the hallway below. Willow peered over the balustrade and stared into the darkness below. Nothing!

“How silly of me, probably just the embers in the hearth,” Willow mumbled, suppressing another yawn. She turned back towards her room but what she saw rearing up in front of her froze her on the spot and made her knees shake with fear.

The Black Hare!

Shadowy and sinister it loomed to her right, its monstrous ears sticking up in the air, its gigantic paws raised as if to pounce. Willow could feel the hair on the back of her neck rising; a chill ran up and down her spine. She took a careful step back; perhaps if she retreated slowly the monster wouldn’t spot her? But the Black Hare had clearly no intention of letting her go and took a step towards her. Willow took another step back and another, now almost reaching the top of the stairs at full speed, but the Black Hare kept following her at the same pace. What should she do?

Willow peered over her shoulder and formed a daring plan. If she jumped on the banister she could slide down and reach the front door before the Black Hare had a chance to catch up with her. She’d lead it down into the garden, away from her friends and family, keeping everyone safe. After that…well, she’d often wondered what eternity would be like, so she’d probably find out tonight!

Willow cautiously swung one leg over the banister and was about to launch, when she saw the Black Hare lift one shaggy leg and copy her. Botheration!

What a fool she had been! Willow tugged her long ears and laughed. The Black Hare did exactly the same!

It was about time she went to bed, if she saw her own shadow as a threat!

heks_in_maan witch flying against moonGood night and Happy New Year to Everyone!

The End