'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Witch

The word 'snow' has been mentioned on the weather forecast, but the chances of a serious snowfall are unlikely. If you think of the leaves as big brown and yellow snowflakes then it's like a blizzard outside. I don't like the idea of making a snowman out of big brown and yellow snowflakes.

My cousin Ronan once dressed up as Dracula on Halloween and he went to a pub where a fancy dress contest was being held. The first prize was free drink for the rest of the night. The winners were three men who dressed up as sheep on a trampoline. You had to imagine the trampoline.

When Ronan was going home he noticed the initials 'WS' a wall. This stood for 'Witch Sarah'. During the week leading up to Halloween each year she'd appear around the town and leave her initials behind. She'd been appearing for over eighty years. She wore a long white coat with red tinsel wrapped around her neck. On her head she had a wide-brimmed hat with flowers on it, and she wore dark sunglasses with big lenses. People said she seemed to float, and many people believed she was a ghost.

Ronan noticed that the paint was still wet, so she must have been there recently. At the other end of the street he found another WS, and this one had the initials 'AH' just beneath it.

He followed the trail of graffiti, and he came across a man called George, who was peeping around a corner. George had inherited a huge house and a fortune from an uncle, and these allowed him to fulfil his dream of living in a hotel. He converted the house into a hotel and he hired staff to work there, but he was horrified at the thought of guests staying overnight. Only his brother, Andrew, was allowed stay there.

George turned around when he heard footsteps behind him. He got a shock when he saw Dracula, but he soon realised it was just Ronan.

"Are you looking for Witch Sarah too?" Ronan said.

"I'm not sure I want to meet her. Or AH."

He told Ronan about a recurring nightmare he'd been having for years. It involved tiny letters running around his feet, forming themselves into words like 'fork' that would attack his feet. He hated seeing 'WS' around the town. And then someone started writing 'AH' near 'WS'. Those letters could form the word 'wash', and his feet wouldn't like that. He didn't fear the letters themselves, but he thought they represented something, that his nightmares were warning him of a real danger, or else someone who knew about his nightmares was using the letters as a threat.

Ronan and George walked on, and soon they came across a man spray-painting 'AH' on the side of a bus shelter. It was George's brother, Andrew Houndmadrig.

"I should have known," George said. "You knew about my nightmare. You did this just to scare me."

"This has nothing to do with your stupid nightmare about those stupid letters and your stupid feet. This is about love."


"I love Witch Sarah. She's been appearing to me in my dreams for the past week, and I fell in love with her. She loves me too. Last night we kissed. My initials are my way of expressing my feelings for her."

"Who is she?" Ronan said.

"I don't know. I never thought of asking her that in my dreams."

"Maybe we can find out now."

They kept following the trail of graffiti. It led them to the edge of town, and they saw her there. She was painting 'WS' on a stone wall. They followed her when she left the town. She walked up the avenue towards George's hotel, and she disappeared around the back.

"Maybe she's a ghost who's haunting the hotel," George said. "And now she's started haunting your dreams as well."

They went into the house through the front door. They tip-toed down the hall and they listened carefully, but the house was in silence. They searched the rooms on the ground floor, and they finally found her in the kitchen. George turned on the light, and he recognised her despite the hat and the sunglasses. It was Sarah, one of his maids. "So you're Witch Sarah," he said to her.

"Yes. Well, sort of. My great-grandmother was the first Witch Sarah. Herself and her best friend dug a grave for a garden gnome one Halloween. They invented Witch Sarah and they blamed the grave on her. People were sceptical, so my great-grandmother dressed up as Witch Sarah to convince them. It became an annual event, and then it became a family tradition."

"How did you manage to get into my dreams?" Andrew said.

"You go sleepwalking every night, and that's where I bump into you. We often have conversations while you're still asleep."

"And we kissed."

"In your dreams."

"Well yeah, quite possibly. But I'm sure those scenes in my dreams were based on real events."

"That's total fiction."

"But it felt so real. You were wearing a red dress and a green coat at the time."

A look of surprise came over Sarah's face, as if she just realised that it might be true, but she said, "No, it was all in your dreams."

"What would you be doing out and about in the middle of the night?" George said to Sarah.

"I go to Neville's hotel to meet Eva, one of his maids. She's been trying to influence his dreams to make him pay the staff more."

Neville owned a hotel that was a few hundred yards away down the road. His hotel had people staying in it, but he hardly ever attracted new guests. Some of the old ones had been there for years. The hotel was a grand old mansion that had seen better days, and the guests liked the dilapidated look. To stay there you had to abide by certain rules. You needed to collect tokens to use the bath, and you got the tokens by taking photos of birds and wild animals in the woods. The guests had to use the hotel's camera, which had been in use since the sixties. They had to develop the photos themselves in the hotel's dark room.

George and Neville didn't get on because they saw each other as rivals, even though neither of them were likely to take business from the other. George liked the idea of influencing Neville's dreams, so he asked Sarah if he could go with her. She didn't want to say no to her boss, especially one who was paying her to work in a hotel where there wasn't any work.

Andrew, Ronan and George went with Sarah to Neville's hotel. Eva let them in through the front door. Andrew was shocked to see that she was wearing a red dress beneath a green coat.

"You're the one I kissed," he said to her.

Sarah said, "She wanted to see you close up, so I brought her to the hotel at night to see you while you were sleepwalking."

"I've admired you from afar for so long," Eva said to Andrew.

"Really?" Andrew said.

"Yeah. Through a telescope."

Neville came down the stairs. George looked for a hiding place, but then he noticed that Neville was walking in his sleep.

When Neville saw Sarah he sang to her, and she blushed. She was in love with him, and this is why she was so eager to visit his hotel at night. He had fallen in love with her in his dreams.

He started dancing with her, but he stopped when he saw George. "Oh no," he said. "Not this nightmare again."

"Why is it a nightmare?" George said.

"It's a nightmare alright, but you're supposed to be dressed as an acorn."

"An acorn?"

"As an acorn, and you're inside it with a penguin. The penguin wants you to get out. He keeps biting... Wait a minute. This is real."

He was angry at first, but he realised that Sarah was real, and she was really in love with him. He put a record on the record player and he danced with her. Andrew danced with Eva. Ronan and George were left together on the sidelines. After an uncomfortable silence, George said, "Will we wake the other maids?"

"Yes," Ronan said. "Let's do that."

George turned up the volume on the record player. Soon all of the staff and the guests were awake, and a party inevitably ensued. Ronan ended up consuming free drink until dawn, and dancing with a maid who didn't speak much English.

The moose's head over the fireplace has been trying on his Halloween costume. He'll be a bloodthirsty pirate, with a stuffed parrot on his antlers. The wife's uncle has warned about Halloween costumes that are too realistic. A friend of his dressed up as a ghost one Halloween, and he was so convincing that a real ghost found him attractive and started kissing him. The real ghost was a pirate. At least he said he was a ghost.