Chapter OneTrick or Treat
Betty Widdershins first learned of the family curse on the night of her birthday. It was her thirteenth, a number considered unlucky by some, but Betty was too practical to believe in all that. She liked to think she was too practical to believe in most superstitious nonsense, despite having grown up surrounded by it.
It was a Saturday, always a busy night in Betty’s home, which was the village inn. The Poacher’s Pocket was the rowdiest place on the isle of Crowstone and had been in the Widdershins family for generations. It now belonged to her granny, who was also named Betty but whom everyone called Bunny to avoid confusion. They lived there with Betty’s sisters, Felicity (known as Fliss), who was the eldest, and six-year-old Charlotte, who would only answer to “Charlie.”
Betty’s birthday also happened to fall on Halloween. As she and Charlie galloped downstairs, their trick-or-treat costumes billowed behind them in a satisfying, villainous way. In fact, Betty’s outfit was helping her to feel rather daring, which she was glad of, as she and Charlie were about to break Granny’s biggest rule. Only, Charlie didn’t know it yet.
As they threw open the door to the lounge bar, warm beer-scented air hit Betty’s nostrils through the holes in her skeleton mask. She picked up Granny’s favorite horseshoe, which had clattered to the floor, and placed it back above the doorframe. Charlie did her best witch’s cackle to announce their entrance and swished her cape. Grabbing Granny’s broomstick from the corner, she began dancing around the scuffed tables and mismatched chairs, chanting as her eyes sparkled in her painted-green face.
“Trick or treat, trick or treat . . . the marshes are misty and sugar is sweet!” She twirled and hopped like an imp as the regulars looked on in amusement.
“Careful, Charlie!” Betty called, eyeing her sister’s cape near the crackling fires. She had lit them earlier, after she and Charlie had carved pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns. She adjusted her long black cloak and motioned impatiently to Granny, who was wiping down the bar.
“We’re off now, Granny,” she said, thankful her face was hidden. She had been planning this evening for weeks, feeling only excitement, but now that it had come to carrying it out, she couldn’t quite believe her own disobedience. She hoped her grandmother would put the tremor in her voice down to excitement, and not to the nerves that were buzzing inside her like marsh midges.
Granny stamped over. She stamped everywhere instead of walking, slammed doors instead of closing them, and mostly shouted rather than talked.
“Off out scrounging?” she said, blowing gray hair out of her face.
“It’s trick-or-treating,” Betty corrected her. “And everyone does it.”
Granny tutted. “I’m well aware of what everyone does, thank you. And it looks like scrounging to me, when you could be useful here.”
“I’ve been useful all day,” Betty muttered snippily. Under the hot mask her bushy hair itched against her neck. “So much for birthdays.”
Granny snorted. Birthday or not, all the Widdershinses had to help run the place, even Charlie.
“Only go around the green,” Granny ordered. “No further, do you hear? And I want you back by—”
“Suppertime,” Betty finished. “I know.”
“Well, mind you are—remember what happened last year.” Granny’s voice softened. “There’s birthday cake for later.”
“Oooh,” said Charlie, pausing her imp dance at the mention of food.
Betty caught Fliss’s eye as Granny was called away to serve a customer.
“Are you sure you won’t come with us?” Betty asked, a note of pleading entering her voice. It had always been such fun, the three of them getting into their Halloween costumes each year. “It won’t be the same without you.”
Fliss shook her head, her dark, glossy hair swishing over her shoulders. There was a faint smear of green on her perfect upturned nose, from when she had painted Charlie’s face earlier. “I’m too old for all that. Besides, I’m needed here.”
“Or maybe you don’t want to miss Will Turner coming in?” Betty joked. “Or is it Jack Humble this week? Who’s getting the Fliss kiss? I can’t keep up, Flit.”
Fliss glared. “I’ve told you not to call me that!”
Betty rolled her eyes, deciding to keep quiet about the paint on her sister’s nose. Since her birthday, Fliss hadn’t been herself. She was quiet, even moody at times, and clammed up whenever Betty asked what was troubling her.
“Betty?” Fliss said, glancing warily at Granny. “You will stay by the green, won’t you?”
Under her mask, Betty gulped. She crossed her fingers within the folds of her cloak and fibbed. “Yes. We’ll stay by the green.”
Fliss’s expression was unreadable as she gazed past Betty to the window. “It’s best you stay close, anyway. It’s looking a bit foggy out there. Taking a ferry over the marshes could be dangerous.” She turned away to serve as a hoity-toity regular named Queenie rapped on the counter impatiently.
Betty rolled her eyes at her sister’s back. “Mustn’t do this, can’t do that,” she muttered under her breath. What had happened to Fliss since her birthday? True, she was as vain as she’d always been, often staring broodily into an old mermaid-shaped mirror Granny had given her, but all her fun had been blown away with the candles on her cake. In fact, she had started sounding exactly like Granny.
Increasingly, Betty felt as though her life at the Poacher’s Pocket was a corset tightening around her, with Granny pulling one string and now Fliss yanking the other, lacing her in so she couldn’t breathe. Tonight, Betty was determined to cut those strings, if only for a little while.
She called to Charlie, who had interrupted a domino game to proudly show off the gap where her front teeth had fallen out. Together, Betty and Charlie headed for the doors, weaving past tables of familiar faces that Betty knew as well as her own. They were almost at the door when Charlie’s foot tangled in Betty’s cloak and she tripped, bumping into a table where a sour-faced fellow named Fingerty sa...