A Trick ... or a Treat?

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 © 2010 Zoe Taylor

Sixteen year old Michael Brown hated Halloween because it always meant chauffeuring his younger sister around, but a chance encounter with the town's 'witch' may just change his life forever.

Sixteen year old Michael Brown hated Halloween. He hated it with a passion. He hated everything about the wretched holiday. Oh, sure, the free candy took the sting out, but every year his parents made him escort his younger sister Susan, and every year he found himself the laughingstock of his friends for his trouble.

This year things would be different, though. This would be the year he would finally stand up to his parents, put his foot down, and demand his rights! Or so he kept telling himself.

“MISTER Brown!” the old hag, Mrs. Wright stared down her sharp, almost chiseled nose at him, her clunky penny-loafers somehow managing to echo their impatient tap-tap-tapping despite obvious age. A few stray giggles from across the room followed as he slowly returned his attention to the lesson at hand. “Since you’re so attentive today, perhaps you can tell us the answer?” the shrill old bat squawked.

“Uh… The Magna Carta?” he guessed. He had no clue what she had been going on about and decided to make a stab in the dark. Complete laughter erupted. She smirked derisively as she slowly paced down the aisle of desks only to turn and stare him down again. God, he hated that!

“Ah ha, so you’re saying,” she paused for dramatic effect, “that Halloween has its ancient roots in the Magna Carta?”

He rolled his shoulders as he slumped further into his seat. “What does it matter anyway? Everybody knows it’s just a stupid holiday made up by candy companies anyway.”

Enter Meghan Crowley: Cheerleader, fiery redhead, and expert on all things Halloween. Michael knew better than to make that snide remark with her within earshot. They shared at least one class together since the fifth grade, and he had been crazy about her since the seventh grade, despite having never actually told her how he felt. He couldn’t explain what it was. There just seemed to be something enchanting about her.

“It just so happens that Halloween is based on the pagan festival of Samhain, or All Hallow’s Eve. It’s the one night when spirits return from the dead, when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest, and if you keep insulting it, far worse than not being invited to my party this weekend’s going to happen to you.” She shot him a coy smile.

Oh, crud! He completely forgot about the party! He slumped even further into his chair even as the class exploded into applause. Mrs. Wright clapped her hands together proudly. “Well said, Ms. Crowley!”

“Yeah, well, witchcraft runs in my family,” she teased. Of course, everyone knew the rumors about Meghan’s grandmother being a witch. No one in their right mind would dare trick-or-treat at her doorstep on All Hallow’s Eve, but Meghan herself took it all in stride. She loved Halloween, and got a good laugh out of playing up the whole ‘my grandma’s a witch’ business

As Mrs. Wright turned to return to her history lesson, Michael scribbled a quick note of apology. He slipped it across Meghan’s desk, and as she unfolded it, she glanced at him with a disarming smile. At least she wasn’t terribly angry with him: not like he would be able to go to her party anyway, though. He felt certain his parents would have other plans for him, as usual.

Why couldn’t Susan just go with her friends like a normal kid? What’s worse, he hadn’t even seen the costume she’d picked out for him this year. It couldn’t have been any worse than going as Peter Pan and Wendy last year, though. Ugh, those hideous green tights!

~oOo~

Sometime around Four, Michael’s beat up old Buick, affectionately referred to by his friends as ‘The Brick’ for both its box-like body and its dull, faded red exterior, rolled into the driveway. His uncle had gotten him a ‘great deal’ on it — only two-hundred dollars, but of course, it whined, groaned, and creaked so much he wondered how he’d ever afford to get everything on it actually working.

‘Little’ sister Susan was hardly as little as she used to be. At twelve years old she stood just on the cusp of teenhood, but she knew she still held sway enough over her parents and big brother to milk at least one more year of humiliating him, and now he had a car: at least, that was how Michael viewed it. He had no sooner set foot in the house when she came bounding down the stairs, blonde curls bouncing merrily despite securing by a festive orange-and-black ribbon.

“Hey Mikey!” she cheered warmly and innocently as she approached him. Clearly, she wanted something, and he could take a couple of easy guesses as to what that might be.

“Don’t call me Mikey,” he groaned. “What do you want, squirt?”

She pouted. “Don’t call me squirt! Anyway Meghan’s throwing a big party this weekend...”

“Don’t. Remind me,” he responded more authoritatively than he really intended. He just hated that he wouldn’t get to go. Shifting his heavy black backpack from one shoulder to the other, he immediately turned to start up the stairs. Her eyes followed him, and she breathed an exasperated sigh before rushing to follow.

“What if I told you I could talk mom and dad into letting you go this year?” she grinned a shark-like grin as he stopped abruptly on the mid-stair landing. He turned about-face with such force that his backpack nearly threw him off balance in the process. She giggled as he searched her face for any signs of deception. Even though he could see none, he KNEW there had to be a catch.

“So what’s the catch?”

“No catch. It’s just … Well, my friends will all be going too, and I figured maybe if we double-teamed them, that it’d be harder to say no. After all,” she paused, shifting her tone to a patronizingly sweet pitch and timbre that made his skin crawl, “With my big brother there I’d be totally safe! And you could hang out with your girlfriend.”

“You finally gave up on the candy train, huh?” he smiled, hopeful, even as he turned to continue up the stairs. She laughed.

“As if! Free candy’s free candy; I thought we could hit up the neighborhood, stash the goodies then hit the party. I even picked out the perfect costume for you. You’ll make such a hot cheerleader!” she cackled, prancing off to her room.

He knew she was lying at that point, at least about the cheerleader part. Every year, she threatened to make him dress up like a girl. Last year she wanted to make HIM go as Wendy while she dressed as Peter Pan, and the year before that it was threats of Disney princesses, which resulted in his escorting her as Prince Ali and Jasmine. By now it had just become one of those annoying family traditions he’d learned to live with, as punching her just resulted in his being grounded anyway.

He figured, as he flopped down in his computer chair, rolling across the hardwood over to where his customized ice blue desktop computer awaited, that it was probably a hint though. Maybe he’d finally look less like a complete goon and more like a big brother doing his sister a favor? He could only hope.

~oOo~

Thursday night, and only two days until Halloween, a chill wind blew into the open garage where Michael’s backside jutted straight up in the air, his head buried deep in the finer intricacies of the internal combustion engine of his car. He hadn’t heard the footsteps approach, but he certainly heard the rather loud sound of a hand slamming flatly against the front fender. He jerked his head up, right into the work light, shouting a curse.

“OW! What the hell man?!” He looked around to see his buddy Marcus snickering loudly off to one side.

“Sorry dude,” he continued to laugh. He would be sorry if he tried that again. “So did you get it yet?”

“Get what?” Michael grumbled, rubbing his sore head.

“The invite to Meghan’s party, duh. Everybody knows she’s hot for you.”

“Whatever man, we’ve been friends since fifth grade. What do you want anyway, besides to give me a concussion?” He glowered, returning to work.

“Me and the guys were going to hit some houses, y’know, eggs and TP, before everybody else gets in on it.”

Michael raised his head to stare at his friend. Marcus could be so unbelievably immature at times, but on the other hand, it did sound like fun, and it’d give him a chance to save face when he showed up at the party Saturday with Susan in tow.

“… Alright. Let me just tell my folks I’m going out.”

“Dude, see if you can sneak some more eggs too!”

“Yeah right,” Michael snorted. “Susan the Snitch is baking cookies with Mom. I wouldn’t get three steps. Just go wait out front, and DON’T egg my front door. I mean it.”

~oOo~

“Are you CRAZY?!” Michael practically shouted as his fair-weather friend grinned at him. Five boys huddled behind the weathered stone wall bordering the decrepit old ‘witch’s’ house, waiting for Michael’s answer to Marcus’ dare.

“Come on man, don’t be such a wuss! You do this and I swear I’ll never laugh at you for taking wittwe Soozie twick or tweating again,” he responded snidely. The others did all they could not to laugh, but failed miserably.

Michael sneered angrily. “Alright! Fine, whatever, but one WORD out of any of you come Saturday and I’ll have Meghan tell every girl in school it was you pricks that egged her grandmother’s house.”

They all stopped laughing and looked nervously at each other. Michael stared defiantly back at them. Finally, he had hit upon a bluff that worked! Of course the irony was that his sway with Meghan really didn’t extend that far, but they didn’t need to know that.

“Okay man, you got it,” Marcus finally soberly replied, passing a fresh carton of ammunition over. “Just hit the place and run like hell.”

The wrought-iron gate creaked and groaned longer and louder than his lemon of vehicular transportation could ever hope to match. Scattered dead leaves, blown across the slightly overgrown stone path by the wind, crunched under his sneakers as he slowly, cautiously crept closer.

A nearby street lamp cast the only light for the entire area so he had plenty of places to hide as he made his way across the unkempt lawn, but somehow he felt unsettled, as though someone were watching him, and not just his yellow-spined buddies hiding behind the fence. If they were so tough, why didn’t THEY come along? Scared of the witch? There was no such thing as real witchcraft. Like Halloween and Christmas, he figured it was just more nonsense.

As he neared the rotting wooden stairs leading up the front deck, he paused. “What am I doing? This is so stupid!” He turned to leave, but something in the back of his mind compelled him to stay and see this through. His reputation was on the line, and what’s more, he’d have something to hold over those idiots this year. All he had to do was throw a few eggs.

He inhaled deeply as he shut his eyes, took two eggs in his hand, pulled back, and flung. Everything seemed to slow down in that instant. The eggs rocketed toward their target, and he heard an audible click. Someone was opening the door!

Seconds later, a familiar girl’s shriek shattered the otherwise deathly silent surroundings. He turned around to see his buddies hauling it down the street. Those traitors had left him to his fate! He tried to run, but his shoelaces, which he could have sworn he had tied not an hour ago, tripped him up, causing him to crash down upon the carton of eggs, smashing them across his face and shirt. He groaned, rolling over onto his back. Panic swept over his every fiber as not the old woman, but Meghan came down the stairs, her face covered in fresh eggs.

“Michael! What the hell?!”

“Meghan! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! It was a mistake!”

“You’d better believe it was a mistake, you pig-headed jerk! Get out of here before I call the cops!”

He scrambled to his feet, holding his hands up disarmingly. “Wait, I can explain-”

“I SAID-”

“Who is it, dear?” an elderly female voice called from the door.

“Now you’re in for it,” she muttered under her breath, turning back to face the darkened door frame. “It’s a boy from school, grandma,” she called, reaching back to grab his hand before his fight-or-flight instincts could kick in. She had a grip like a vice, dragging him right up the front steps. Now, Michael was no slouch. He wasn’t the strongest boy in school, but he wasn’t the weakest either, yet like his magnetic attraction to this beautiful young woman, he found himself unable to break free physically either.

As they drew closer, the woman held up a candle, illuminating her face. Her features looked as weathered as the house itself. Deep, heavy wrinkles criss-crossed her face, and unlike Meghan’s distinctly Irish-English heritage, the old woman looked far more like one of those caricatures of a Native American he’d seen on the History Channel on occasion.

“Oh my goodness,” the old woman chuckled under her breath. “Well, you two come right inside and we’ll get you cleaned up.”

~oOo~

Michael waited nervously in the dimly lit kitchen for Meghan to return. She and the old woman, presumably Meghan’s grandmother, had left upstairs five minutes prior, and still hadn’t returned. He thought strongly about leaving, but he knew if he left now that he’d never get that invitation. His only chance to save his reputation, AND his chances with Meghan, were to stay and try to grovel his way out of this like a man. Finally, he could hear the old stairs creaking, and the light step of Meghan’s canvas shoes.

“You’re still here?” Meghan’s voice carried from the stairs in the next room.

“Um, yeah?” he responded nervously. Meghan smiled as she appeared in the doorway. She reached over, flipping the light switch, leaving Michael wondering why, if the old lady had electricity, she insisted on keeping the house so dark and using candles?

Meghan still had the telltale stains of egg yolk on her tie-dyed t-shirt, though by virtue of it being tie-dye they were only noticeable for the obvious reasons that he put them there. She had braided her long red hair into a single ropelike twist in the time she’d been away. She laughed as she stepped closer, taking a towel from the nearby countertop.

“You’ve really got egg on your face this time, Mike,” she teased.

“I’d laugh if I thought I wasn’t completely dead right now,” he responded uneasily. This caused her to giggle even more. She stepped closer and set to work carefully wiping away the poultry-goo from where he fell on the egg carton. She seemed to have calmed considerably, almost uncharacteristically. Meghan always had a fiery temper, and this unnatural calm just served to make him more nervous.

“It’s alright. You can laugh. We’re not going to put a spell on you … Yet.”

He started to laugh at that, but when she didn’t laugh too, instead giving him a serious stare, he abruptly stopped. “Listen, Meg. I’m really, really sorry.”

“You’re going to be. What were you thinking, egging my grandmother’s house anyway?”

He exhaled slowly. “I thought that if I went along with it just this once that maybe the guys would finally leave me alone. Every freaking year I get stuck taking Susan around, and every year I get laughed at for it, and now that Susan wants to go to your party, I’d have had that on top of it. I just wanted some peace. I was gonna come back tomorrow and pretend to just be passing by and help clean it up, honest.”

“Ah ha,” she responded dryly, turning to step away from him. “So not only were you selfishly going to attack an old woman, but you were going to manipulate her, and probably me too?”

“Yea-wait, what? No!”

She spun around, glaring at him.

“Michael Brown… You’ve got a good heart, and you have so much potential. You have a family and a sister that loves you, yet and you resent it all.”

“My sister doesn’t ‘love’ me. She uses me. She’s a conniving little-” before he could finish, she closed the distance again and placed a finger to his lips.

“She does love you, and if you can’t see that, then I really do feel sorry for you.”

“Young man,” the old woman spoke as she stepped in through the doorway. Unlike Meghan, he never heard her steps either on the stairs, or on the creaky wooden floor. “It sounds to me like you are in dire need of a dose of perspective. I have a proposition for you. If you’re willing to venture a little adventure, I believe it would be most rewarding for us both.”

Michael had never seen Meghan as uneasy as she appeared to be at those words. She turned to approach the old woman, whispering, though the house’s otherwise dead silence, with not even a cricket or owl outside to be heard, allowed him to pick up on the conversation after a few seconds.

“…sure this is a good idea? I really do like him.”

“I know, dear, but do you really want to let him get away with pelting you with eggs?”

“Well, no, but…” Meghan sighed, stepping to the side as the old woman approached.

“You have a valuable lesson to learn. It seems to me that you need to learn to be more like your sister.”

“Uh… Yeah, can you run that one by me again? How am I supposed to be more like Susan? We’re nothing alike.”

“It’s simple, dear child. I’ll work a spell to transform you into Susan’s twin.” She spoke with all the seriousness of a doctor explaining a medical procedure. Meghan stood stone-faced and silent. “You’ll appear to everyone and yourself as her identical twin.”

“You’re insane!” he shouted abruptly, turning to leave.

“Am I? Would you prefer I simply call the police? I’m sure those boys who ran off would be more than happy to testify against you.” Wait, what did he have to lose? If he played along, he could get out of here scot-free.

“Okay, say I go along with this. How long do I have to be her ‘twin’?” he tried to look serious. He didn’t believe anything this crazy old lady said of course, but he’d say anything she wanted if it meant getting out of this mess without a criminal record.

“Well, Halloween is only a couple of days away. Let’s say, if you learn your lesson before Halloween night?”

“And if I don’t?” he asked dryly.

“I hope you like pretty dresses,” she responded with a somewhat darker tone than had previously used. It didn’t matter. He had to get out of here!

“Alright, fine, whatever.”

“Hmm, you are an impatient one, just like… Oh, but you don’t want to hear the ramblings of an old woman.” She grinned an uneven grin that gave him chills. Meghan’s stoic façade shifted for just a moment as her grandmother continued. “I suppose you don’t even want to ask what the lesson is. But you’re a smart lad. I’m sure you’ll figure it out… Probably. Off you go. We’ve work to do.”

She unceremoniously turned, waving him off as she left the room. Just like that, he was a free man. Meghan stared at him for several seconds. Finally she closed the distance, wrapped him in a friendly hug, and kissed his cheek. “Good luck. You’ll need it.”

“Meghan, wait, you don’t seriously believe all this do you?”

By all rights, she should have glared at him, or yelled, but she didn’t. She simply offered a sad smile and turned to walk away.

~oOo~

“MICHAEL JAMES BROWN!” his father bellowed. He had tried to sneak past the living room without being seen, but to no avail. His father stood from the sofa and approached, pulling at his shirt, heavily stained with egg yolk.

“What on EARTH have you been doing?!”

“Umm…”

“The truth…” he responded. Michael’s dad had one simple, easy-to-live-by rule. If you made a mistake, you owned up to it and accepted your punishment. At least, that was his rule for Michael. It seemed, to Michael at least, that his sister got away with everything. Speaking of the little Munchkin, Susan nervously peeked around the corner of the living room, having heard the commotion from the kitchen. Another girl, about the same age with jet black hair peeked around from behind Susan.

“Me and the guys were out egging houses… I mean, I wasn’t going to at first, but then they dared me to egg old lady Crowley’s.”

His mother now came into the conversation from the kitchen-entry, shooing Susan and the other girl off to go finish their homework. “You egged that poor old woman’s house?”

“Um… Not… exactly. I kind of … accidentally egged her granddaughter.”

Silence followed. He leapt at the one opportunity he would have to explain himself, reasoning that if he did it, he could then get the guys off his back for taking Susan trick-or-treating every year. He’d finally have some peace unlike every year prior. Of course, he conveniently omitted the part about agreeing to a spell to avoid being thrown in jail. When he finished, his parents both looked at each other, then at him. His father spoke calmly.

“Upstairs. We’ll discuss punishment later. Wash up, finish your homework then get to bed, and no computer games.”

“But dad-”

“Move it!” his mother ordered. He groaned, turning to stomp upstairs.

~oOo~

Two hours of peaceful silence followed. Michael’s mind kept returning to the earlier events. Everything happened so fast. Why was Meghan looking at him like that? This was all too weird.

Not long after his shower, as Michael sat working on his homework, a timid, barely audible knock caught his attention. He reached over to turn down his stereo. He already knew who it was, but the question was what did she want? Sure enough as the door slowly cracked open, Susan cautiously poked her head around the corner.

“What?” he asked flatly, causing her to cringe. She looked like she’d been crying.

“Michael, I-”

“You what, came to gloat?”

“No! I… I’m sorry!” she bawled, darting back out of the room and slamming the door behind her. What did she have to be sorry about? He sighed, slamming the textbook closed. Maybe things would look brighter in the morning. A second, more adult knock came next. He ignored it, climbing into bed. Predictably, his mother stepped inside, closing the door behind her.

“What did you say to your sister?” she asked in a gentle tone as she sat on the bed beside him.

“What?” he turned to stare blankly at her. “I asked her if she came to gloat, then she ran off crying.”

His mother sighed, shaking her head. “Of course she’s sorry. She’s not a child anymore Michael. She heard everything you said about her, and now she thinks you hate her. Oh, never mind. Goodnight Michael,” she exhaled those last words with some minor exasperation.

He waited until he could hear her footsteps on the stairs before getting up again. He pushed the door open, peeking around cautiously then crept down the hall to his sister’s room.

“Susan?” he offered.

“Go away!” she sobbed.

“Come on, just let me in for a second. I gotta tell you what that crazy–I mean, what Meghan’s grandma said. It’s important!”

Of course, he could just barge in like she and their Mom had done to him, but he’d never be able to get to sleep if he made this any worse than it already was. He waited patiently for a full minute for her to finally open the door. She had changed into one of her cute pink flannel night gowns by now, her little friend having apparently gone home while he enjoyed incarceration in his room. She stared up at him expectantly, stepping aside to let him in.

He followed her across the sea of plush white carpet to the overstuffed canopy bed with its pink lace frivolity, a stark contrast to his utilitarian navy blue bedcovers. He pulled the covers back, letting her crawl under the sheet, and tucked her in.

“So what did she say?” she asked expectantly.

He shifted his gaze to the floor and sighed. “She said that I should be more like you.”

She giggled at that. “Yeah, no offense but I always wished I had a sister instead of a brother.”

“You might get your wish for a day,” he added with a laugh, rolling his eyes.

“… Wha?”

“She claimed she was putting a spell on me to turn me into your twin sister. As if. Tell you what though, if I suddenly turn into a girl I’ll let you do my hair tomorrow.”

“Sure!” she squealed excitedly, leaning up to kiss his cheek. He just shook his head and kissed her forehead.

“G’night sis. Sorry I yelled at you earlier.”

“It’s okay. I had no idea your friends were giving you crap over me though… I’m sorry, sis.” She giggled. He glowered for just a moment, but then, figuring he owed it to her to let that one slide, smiled, and tousled her hair before standing to leave the room.

~oOo~

That night, Michael had the strangest dreams. He saw his entire life flash before his eyes in a series of dream sequences that seemed to last forever, only it wasn’t his life, per se. It was as though he and Susan had grown up together, as twins. He remembered himself as Michael, but at the same time, the more images that floated by, the more he remembered his life as twelve-year-old Sally Brown.

He felt delirious and more than a little disoriented when he woke. His head hurt for some reason, and something kept tickling his nose. He slowly slid one eye open to find something strange above him. A purple bed canopy? He rubbed his eyes several times, only to find the lace of a nightgown sleeve resting about his wrists, and that tickling sensation was a lock of wayward blonde curls, just like Susan’s.

He screamed and sat bolt upright, only to find his voice much, much higher and more girlish. It didn’t sound exactly like Susan’s, but it certainly belonged to a pre-teen girl. He looked around to find he was now in Susan’s bedroom. Their beds sat opposite one another with identical furnishings for each half of the room, one side done up in Susan’s favorite shade of pink, the other matching the lavender of the bed’s canopy and bedclothes. Susan sat up, staring blankly at this new intrusion on her personal space.

“OhmyGod… It WASN’T just a dream!” Susan exclaimed as she bounded out of bed, racing over to throw her arms around her new sister. She giggled happily.

“What the hell?!” Michael, now Sally, shrieked, staring down at herself. Susan giggled even louder.

“Mrs. Crowley, remember? You said she cast a spell on you! Now we’re sisters! This is SO cool!”

As if on cue, their mother pushed the door open, peeking inside. “I heard screaming. Is everything okay girls?”

Before Sally could answer, Susan looked up from the bed and smiled. “Yes Mom. Sally just had a nightmare.”

“Awww,” Mom cooed as she stepped closer. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she brushed Sally’s hair out of her face, leaning over to kiss her forehead. She couldn’t remember the last time Mom babied Michael like this, but it had to have been long before he was Susan’s age. “Are you okay sweetheart?”

Sally numbly shook her head, throwing her arms around her mother. “No, this is so messed up Momma! Meghan, and the guys, and the party, and… and…” she sobbed incoherently as their mother tried to comfort her. Susan for her part wrapped her arms around from the other side, trying desperately to comfort her new sister.

“The party? Sweetheart, did you have a bad dream about the Halloween party? If you’re nervous you know you don’t have to go.”

“But if I don’t go, you wouldn’t let …” Susan suddenly paused. Memories of that conversation playing out VERY differently came to mind. Michael completely forgot Meghan had a little sister Susan’s age. Together the three of them had asked to go a couple of days ago.

Mom frowned, pressing a hand to Sally’s forehead. Taking her cue, Susan gave Sally’s hand a squeeze and smiled reassuringly at her. “I’m going to go get some breakfast. Sal can I get you something?”

She slowly peeked over at her, uncertain as to why she felt so comfortable answering to that name. She hadn’t even thought about food yet, but now that she mentioned it… “Oatmeal sounds okay…”

“Two teaspoons of sugar and a dash of cinnamon?”

“Um… yeah, how’d you know?” she sniffed.

“We’re twins, doofus,” Susan giggled, kissing her sister’s cheek lightly before hopping up off the bed and bounding out the door. Susan was taking this all really well, but then, she had just confessed to always wanting a sister the night prior. ‘Sally’ on the other hand, couldn’t believe any of this was real. It HAD to be a dream. Any minute now she’d wake up, back in Michael’s old bed, Michael’s old room … His room!

She suddenly sprang out of bed, racing down the hallway to where Michael’s old room should be. Instead she found a small study full of bookshelves, and her father sitting at what used to be Michael’s computer desk, typing away at something. When he noticed her standing in the doorway, he spun his chair around and leaned forward, smiling at her.

“Hi princess. Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Y-yeah, I just had a bad dream. I had to see what was in here, but I guess everything’s okay now,” she responded, turning to leave again. Her father scratched his head, shrugged, and returned to work. Okay, maybe this wasn’t a dream, but what did that old hag say? That Michael had until Halloween night to learn to be more like Susan? But how was he supposed to do that? They had become twins, now, but she still had no idea what, exactly, the big lesson was!

~oOo~

Sally tried to mull it over in her mind as she lazily worked away at her bowl of oatmeal. Susan was a phenomenal cook who could even turn a simple meal like oatmeal into a masterpiece. At least that much hadn’t changed.

She suddenly felt memories surging forth of last night, only instead of egging Meghan she vividly remembered staying home and giggling with Susan, Mom and … Lara? Meghan’s little sister, baking cookies for the big Girl Scout Halloween party.

Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted by her mother calling from the kitchen door. “Hurry up, girls, or you’ll be late for school! Sally, you’re not even dressed yet!”

“It’s okay, Mom,” Susan spoke up for her. “Since it’s Halloween tomorrow our teachers are letting us wear our costumes to school today. Sal let me pick out her costume this year, remember?”

Their mother paused, giggling to herself. “Oh, that’s right, because she made you go as Peter Pan last year. Well, hurry up anyway. Lara’s Mom is helping her mother-in-law clean up after some pranksters hit last night so we’re giving her a ride too.” Sally smiled at that.

As Michael, he got the raw end of that deal, and very nearly a savage beating, last year. It sounded like as Sally, things were vastly more even. She wondered though, if this meant Michael could still be in trouble for the egging, or if his agreement to become Sally for a day meant someone else did it?

~oOo~

Back upstairs, Sally sat on the edge of Susan’s bed, watching her sister dig through their closet. Maybe Michael just didn’t spend enough time in here, but it felt like Susan’s closet seemed a lot bigger and deeper. Subtle memories of Dad converting it into a walk-in closet at the expense of some of their own closet space a couple of years ago came floating to mind. Dad really loved his girls, it seemed.

“There it is! Um, what the heck?” Susan sounded completely shocked. Sally eased off the bed, nervously approaching. She peeked inside. “What?”

“This isn’t the costume I got for you. I picked out this really cute cheer uniform for me and a football jersey for you. I was going to let you off easy this year. Only now, well, look!”

She pulled out a pair of matching orange and black cheer uniforms, just like the one Meghan would be wearing for the big football game today, only their size. Sally groaned.

“That figures. We’re twins. I remember us doing that annoying ‘dress alike’ thing to screw with people a lot.”

“And that one time you took my place to take that math test that I so wasn’t ready for … wait, WHY do I remember that?” She paused, and in unison, the twins continued, “This is so weird.”

They stared at each other, and Sally started to giggle. Susan smiled fondly. “You’re taking this all pretty well.”

“Err, well, yeah, I mean it’s not SO bad. It’s only for the day, MAYBE tomorrow, if I can figure out what that old bat meant about being more like you.”

Susan scowled. “Well, for one thing, you need to stop insulting her!”

“What?” Sally stared dumbly.

Susan shook her head. “Never mind - you’ll figure it out. Now get out of that night gown already and please, please tell me you remember having ‘the talk’ with Mom.”

Oh dear…

~oOo~

“Oh my God, you guys are so lucky to be twins!” the black-haired, green-skinned witch giggled as she slid into the Browns’ SUV, eyeing her friends’ matching costumes. She gave Sally’s ponytail a playful swat. “Not like me and Megs. I mean don’t get me wrong, she’s still the most awesome big sister on the planet, but to be twins would be SO awesome! Anyway, oh hi Mrs. Brown!”

“Hello dear,” Mrs. Brown smiled from the driver’s seat.

Susan leaned over and whispered, “Remember, Marcus and Meghan are dating now.”

“WHAT?! That jerk?!”

Lara, seemingly oblivious to why it would need to be pointed out, leaned forward to stare at Sally. “He IS kind of a pig, but Meghan likes him. Oh hey, did you guys hear? Somebody egged gramma’s house last night. The cops are looking into it, but nobody saw anything.”

“I…” Sally suddenly bit her lip. Lara and Susan turned in their seats to stare, and Sally quickly recovered, “-’m so sorry to hear that. I hope they catch the jerk — or jerks!”

Lara giggled. “I’m kinda surprised anybody was brave enough. Y’know, the whole ‘witch’ thing.” With that pointed out, Sally only now took note of Lara’s costume. She cleared her throat.

“Um… Lara, can I ask you a really personal question? Promise you won’t get mad though.”

“Yes, I promise,” Lara responded with a mix of both dry sarcasm and drama that only she could truly masterfully put forth.

“What kind of witch is your grandmother?”

Mrs. Brown abruptly slammed on the brakes, turning to glare at Sally. “Young lady! I thought I raised you better than that!”

Lara held up her hands disarmingly. “No, it’s okay! I’m actually surprised you guys didn’t ask sooner. Witchcraft really does run in our family, so grandma says.” It almost seemed as though she added that last line for Mrs. Brown’s benefit. “See, there are three basic types of magic: white magic, gray magic, and black magic. White magic and black magic are pretty obvious — good and bad. Gray magic is the in-between stuff, the stuff of tricks and pranks. Gramma doesn’t believe in black magic or white magic. She says hurting people, for any reason, is stupid and selfish, and that simply healing them or giving them something they didn’t earn themselves is no better.” She grinned a grin of both innocence and mischief as she stared at Sally. “Why?”

“Oh, I was just curious.”

“Uh huh. So are you guys asking anyone to my sister’s party?”

~oOo~

School was a unique experience for Sally. Even though she vividly remembered her life as Sally, going to school with Susan, Lara, and Susan’s other friends, she still also remembered Michael going to school here a couple of years ago, which made keeping details straight a challenge unto itself.

Added to that difficulty was that, again despite vivid memories, Sally was finding the short skirt on her Halloween costume a chore to keep in place without flashing her underwear to the world. To make matters worse, one of the boys decided to ‘help’ her out. As she and her sister were leaving science class, Jimmy Stone, a freckle-faced curly-haired boy that sat behind them in English crept up behind the two of them, hoisting the back of Sally’s skirt.

She shrieked, spinning around to face him. He gave her a goofy grin, and she balled her fist to try and belt him. Unfortunately, her new slight twelve-year-old frame left much to be desired in physical ability. He grabbed her hand and laughed, twisting her arm behind her.

“Ooh, girlie’s got some fight in her! Why don’t you gimme a kiss?”

“That’s enough Jimmy!” Susan shrieked, stomping his foot. He yelped, letting go of Sally’s arm, and before it could continue, Mr. Dugan, the science teacher, stepped out of his classroom.

“What’s going on out here?”

“She hit me!” Jimmy tried to protest, pointing at first Susan, then Sally, then back again, having trouble telling which of them he had initiated the fight against. Mr. Dugan turned to stare at them expectantly, and they quickly shook their heads. Sally didn’t know exactly why, but she suddenly felt the urge to burst into tears, and promptly did so. Susan wrapped her arms around her sister as another boy, Tony Morris, came over.

“Uh, Mr. Dugan? I saw the whole thing. Jimmy lifted her skirt, and when she tried to fight back he twisted her arm. Then Susan stomped his foot to make him let go.”

“Is that true girls?” Mr. Dugan glanced down at the twins. Susan quickly nodded, her ponytail bobbing even as Sally rested her head on Susan’s shoulder. Mr. Dugan grabbed Jimmy by the shirt and dragged him down the hall. The other students pointed and laughed, even as they gave the middle-aged, six-foot tall teacher a wide path with which to deal with his miscreant ward.

Tony approached the twins, placing his hand on Sally’s shoulder. “Hey, are you okay? He didn’t hurt you too bad did he?”

Sally sniffed as she turned to look at him. Her cheeks began to burn as she shook her head. “No, I’m okay… Thanks.”

“C’mon sis. Let’s get you cleaned up before class. Hey Tony, could you do us a huge favor and run down to Ms. Lewis’ class, tell her we’ll be a few seconds late please?” She smiled sweetly at him, and he quickly nodded, turning to practically sprint down the hall, even as Susan led Sally to the nearest girls’ room.

“Being a girl is freakin’ hard!” Sally whined. Susan laughed as she pulled her sister over to the counter. Taking a fresh tissue from her purse, she dabbed at Sally’s eyes.

“Yeah, no kidding doofus.”

“Hey, you okay?”a slightly older female voice called, following the sounds of a toilet flush as an eighth grade girl came out of the nearby stall to wash her hands. Susan smiled up at her. She turned to the twins as she dried her hands on the sandpaper the schools called paper towels, offering a friendly smile.

“Jimmy Stone tried to lift her skirt. When she fought back he twisted her arm, but Mr. Dugan dragged his ass down to the office.”

The older girl giggled. “You go girl. Don’t take that kind of crap from a boy, least of all that punk.” She held up her hand expectantly for a high five, and Sally reluctantly obliged, but smiled a little.

“Thanks.”

“Hey, listen, if he gives you guys any more crap just let me know okay? You should seriously consider taking self-defense classes like me. Boys are smart enough to leave you alone when they know you can put them on their face.”

~oOo~

Sally could not have been more grateful for the final bell that day. Her day had been so full of slip-ups and near-misses confusing her current, temporary new life with her life as Michael. What’s more, she knew exactly who had egged Meghan’s grandmother’s house, and couldn’t tell anyone because she didn’t have an alibi as to how she knew! Lara interrupted her thoughts as they drove her home.

“Hey, are you okay Sally? You’ve been quiet since we got in the car. You’re not still upset about Jimmy are you?”

As the SUV rolled to a stop at the traffic light, Mrs. Brown glanced back. “What was that?”

Lara bit her lip. “Jimmy Stone attacked Sally at school today.”

“He WHAT?!”

“No, Mom, it wasn’t like that,” Sally tried to calm her mother down, explaining what had really happened, instead of the sensationalized version Lara had obviously heard. When she finished, Mrs. Brown slowly shook her head.

“Well, regardless I think it’s time I enrolled you girls in Taekwondo. Your father mentioned they’re giving the first lesson free at the rec center next week.”

“Oh, hey, can Sally and Susan come over to my house?” Laura interrupted, “Meghan needs help setting up for the big party. She can give them a ride home after since she’s cheering at the football game tonight.”

Susan and Sally looked at each other, grinned, and added in unison, “Pleeease?”

Mrs. Brown started to laugh. “Okay, okay, I can’t resist it when they do that, and they know it.” She smiled, the honk from the next car back reminding her that the light had turned green.

“Yay!” the three exclaimed in unison. It had been an incredibly rough day all around for Sally, but the thought of spending some time at Michael’s would-be girlfriend’s house sounded really appealing … even if it would be time spent as the friend of her little sister instead. This was so confusing.

As they walked up the stairs together, the front door opened, and Old Mrs. Crowley appeared. Sally froze right in her tracks. Susan and Lara both stopped to stare at her, but the old woman casually stepped out onto the front steps and regarded the three girls with a warm, innocent smile.

“Hello there girls. I haven’t been out of the house in so long, I thought I’d just stop in and see how my daughter-in-law was doing. How was school today?”

Lara shrugged. “Hi gramma. It was okay. Sally had some boy trouble, but nothing major.”

“Oh, really?” she answered, turning to look at Sally. “I hope you handled it properly?”

“Well let’s see. I spent the entire day trying to keep boys from looking up my skirt, one succeeding. When I tried to fight back I got my arm twisted, and I completely humiliated myself in front of a cute boy.” Sally sighed. She wanted to cry just thinking about it, but managed to force herself to keep it together.

“You poor thing,” she cooed. Her old bones creaked just a bit as she knelt down in front of them.

“I… really don’t want to talk about it, if that’s okay? I just want to help Meg get ready for her party.”

“My my. So polite,” she responded, patting Sally’s head gently. “Just like your sister.”

“… What?”

She giggled under her breath. “You’re on the right track, dearie. Now let me ask you this…”

Lara and Susan seemed to fade away into darkness, leaving only the old woman and Sally. The old woman looked up, locking her gaze with Sally’s.

“Given the chance to do it over again, what would you do differently about yesterday?”

“A lot,” Sally sighed. “For starters I wouldn’t have yelled at Susan and made her cry, and… Well, that would’ve probably never happened anyway because I would’ve told Marcus to go shove those eggs up his nose.”

“Interesting… Interesting. Why the change of heart?”

“Well, being a girl is HARD for one. I didn’t realize how hard Susan must have it sometimes. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be shunned like some kind of …”

“Witch?” she answered with a knowing smile.

“Well… Yeah. I’m sorry about what happened. I swear I never meant to hit Meghan anyway, but I never should have taken that stupid dare. … And I’m sorry I didn’t take Halloween more seriously too.”

The old woman grinned. “There are things in this world which mankind at large is not meant to understand, child. I’ve given you a glimpse because you needed a swift kick in the backside.”

“I guess this means I have to go back to being Michael now, right?” Even despite the day she had, she almost sounded reluctant. Despite all the bad things that happened, she had never felt closer to either her sister or her family, and really didn’t want to give that up just yet.

“Well, you seem to have taken to this new form rather easily…”

“I thought that was because you gave me all these memories of what my life would be like,” she responded, a little surprised.

“Child, I gave you no such thing. I simply put things in motion. To put it another way, I opened the door. Your willingness to accept my offer, whether consciously or subconsciously, and to genuinely make amends did all this. You stepped through the door.”

“Are you saying I wanted to be a girl?” she blinked, staring blankly back at her.

“Well, not per se, no. You wanted a change.”

She had a point.

“I guess you’re right. So what happens now?”

“That part is up to you. Stay as you are, or return to your old body, it’s out of my hands now. What I can do is teach you.”

“You… want me to be a witch?”

She grinned. “The choice is yours. You have the Gift, just like my granddaughters. You have the potential to be a powerful agent of chaos, given the proper motivations and training.”

“When do we start?” she asked, excited.

“Tomorrow night, after Meghan’s party. For now, enjoy being a girl a little bit longer before you decide. Oh, and don’t worry about Marcus. I have something very… special in mind to teach that boy a lesson he won’t soon forget, either.”

“Mrs. Crowley?”

“Yes dear?”

Sally stepped forward, wrapping her arms around the old woman’s neck. “Thanks. I … I really do think I want to stay like this. I won’t miss those so-called friends, and I feel like I understand my sister better now. I feel-”

As the light around them returned to normal, Lara and Susan fading back into view, Old Mrs. Crowley was nowhere to be seen. Susan blinked, glancing around.

“Uh… Lara, where’d your gramma go?”

Lara giggled. “Oh, she’s around, somewhere. C’mon, let’s go see if Meghan needs any help.”

Sally followed her sister and their friend into the house. Already, she felt as though memories of Michael had begun to fade, or perhaps she willed those memories away?

She had made the conscious decision to remain as Sally, but was it really her decision, the decision Michael would have made? If Michael knew today what he knew yesterday, would he have ever set foot in the old woman’s yard? Was she tricked, or was she treated: or perhaps, maybe both?



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