The stench of blood was what roused her. It was everywhere. Seeping into the cold, dirt ground. Blossoming from
between the rough bark grooves. Drenching the front of her smock. Beading up on the ends of the wool fibers and making her
shiver more greatly than October could on its own.
Hannah’s eyes fluttered open.
She lay sprawled out on the floor of Angst Wald forest, her head tilted toward the stars at a terrible angle. She
wouldn’t look. She couldn’t. Imagining the carnage that surrounded her was a lesser evil than forcing herself to look upon it.
Hannah closed her eyes against the corpse pinned to the oak tree, right above her.
There were no sounds of breathing; no movement or cries of pain. They are all dead. Restricting her vision to the
forest floor, Hannah shakily crawled to her feet and stumbled for the nearest clearing that would deliver her from the murder she’d
committed this evening.
She must get Theobald. He always knew what to do in these situations. But she hadn’t ventured this far into the
Angst Wald before. Sure, she’d wandered at its edges a time or two; picked berries for dessert and helped her brother carry
firewood back once. But as she moved between the dark tree branches tonight and crawled beneath thick banners of cobwebs, every
turn and stumble looked terrifyingly the same.
Hannah reached the edge of the woods just as the strangers’ blood began to dry and crackle along her forearms and
elbows. A familiar bridge stood straight ahead, stretching over a spindling branch of the town river. It was late, but not much so. A
few men came and went from taverns and inns. One walked his horse nearby, burdened by a load of wood and fabrics.
Hiding behind an especially thick oak tree, Hannah threw her head back and screamed once for ‘help.’ Then, as the
cry caught the ears of several of the men and they turned toward the Angst Wald, she sprang farther back behind a different set of
bushes and waited. Taking up muskets, a group of three or four fellows charged into the dark woods and hurried right past.
It’d be a bit of a hunt for the men to retrieve the bodies Hannah had run so far to leave behind. But it was better
than abandoning them altogether, Hannah had decided the first time she had lured help to her accidental victims.
The bridge leading into the town was clear. Hannah darted out from under her bush and, keeping low, hurried to
the water. She plunged into the stream. It was only naturally waist-high, on a girl her height. But she curled up beneath the calm
waves until they brushed her lips and scrubbed the slimes of blood off, as best she could.
The waters numbed her already cold body. Slowly, she waded the rest of the way across. And, struggling to pull her
heavily sodden clothes along with her, she trudged the rest of the way home.
It took the rest of the hour for her to reach the fields. Hannah stumbled up the last of the hills and looked tiredly
down at the Büter residence from her new vantage point. But instead of relief, she was filled with freshened terror.
Bright blotches of orange and red spotted the land, held high above the tens of black silhouettes that stormed the
house. Theobald was nowhere to be seen. But she knew he would appear soon to meet the strange confrontation – or else be
Bits of grass and wheat clung to Hannah’s wet smock as she crouched behind the planks of their makeshift fence.
She watched with growing impatience and fear. But her suspense was interrupted by a hand that grabbed her from behind.
“Theo?!” she cried.
But when she looked into the dark face of the body that now dragged her around the side of the house toward the
chaos, she could not recognize it. The hand moved up to her mouth; clamped over her lips. Whimpering, she stumbled the last few
steps and landed on her hands and knees at the edge of the townsfolk.
“It’s alright, Hannah.”
The worn hands of their neighbor, Cecily Specter, pulled the girl back to her feet and rested on her shoulders.
“You’re safe now. He won’t hurt you anymore.”
“‘Hurt’ me?” Hannah echoed loudly. “Who? Theo?! That’s… that’s…”
Impossible was the word she was searching for. But the front door slowly creaked open and the subject of the
accusation stumbled out from the dark insides of the crude, but elaborate and large, dwelling. Hannah brushed Cecily’s gentle
strokes away and rushed for her brother.
“What’s happening?” she demanded.
The aggressiveness in his expression faltered in front of his little sister and was replaced by depressed resignation.
He kissed Hannah’s forehead. When he pulled away, his hair had fallen into his eyes and he looked rather young for once.
Feeling the uneasy stares of the townspeople on her back, Hannah pushed her brother inside and bolted the door
“They’ve found us out, I’m afraid,” he whispered.
“So? Make them leave. Get us some room to breathe and we’ll pack up and leave. There are not enough bakeries here
anyway,” she rambled quickly. “You’ve done it before, Theo. Every time it looks like our ending, it’s really just another beginning.
Theobald reached down and removed the knife from his waist. Biting at his lip, he pressed it into his sister’s hands
and moved past her toward the door.
“We’ve talked about this, sister. You know what to do.”
Theobald tore the door open and turned his glare on the crowd.
“Witch!” they roared automatically, chanting the accusation. “Give us the girl! Let her be!”
Hannah sank into the shadows. She bit her lip and, with shaking hands, drew the blade of Theo’s knife across her
hands and arms several times. Her own blood dripped down the front of her waterlogged nightgown, covering the faint stains left
by the bodies of the townspeople she’d murdered tonight.
Hannah tiptoed out of the shadows. As rehearsed, Theo grabbed her by the hair and dragged her out through the
door, forcing her to her knees beside him.
“I presume you’ve found the little gift I’ve left you in the forest,” Theo cried, tightening his grip. “Hannah is a loose
end that wasn’t supposed to escape. I’ll ensure she doesn’t next time!”
“Help,” she whispered.
Theo nudged her violently.
“Help!” she cried louder.
“Give us the girl,” one in the crowd repeated. “Just let Hannah go, Theo.”
Hannah turned and stared up at his face; her own shone with tears.
“It’ll be alright,” she promised quietly, so that only he could hear. “So we’ll escape separately this time. Meet me in
the cemetery two days from now, on Halloween night.”
“Burn your smock at sunrise,” he hissed. “Then go into town and buy yourself a new one as well as a mourning
dress. Something dark and somber. The money’s beneath my mattress.” He took a deep breath, scowling at the floorboards. “I’m
With those final words, he pitched her forward onto her face.. She tumbled into the legs of the men and women
who stood at the front of the crowd. Cecily flew to Hannah’s crumpled frame and dragged her back to the edge.
Meet two days from now, the promise echoed between the siblings.
It was as good a plan as the usual one, really. Theo and Hannah preferred to run away in the dead of the night,
together, when the townspeople caught wind of the supernatural stench leaking from the Büter place.
But it was blown to pieces when one of the townspeople stepped forward to take Theo into custody. The sound of a
struggle erupted followed by two successive gunshots as the men raised their muskets and brought him tumbling down to his
Through it all, Cecily led Hannah steadily away.
Hannah stood at the window of her bedroom, clad only in her underwear. A dark dress had been purchased, as
promised, and was sitting nicely in her trunk, ready and waiting to bounce through the door of the jailhouse, bring her to Theo’s
bloody side to say goodbye. Then through the door of the meeting house where the accusation of witchcraft would be painted all
over Theo, publically. And then there was the nicety and formality of announcing his impending execution still to be made, at the
end of it all.
And oddly, Hannah looked forward to the relief of seeing it happen. Once it did, she figured sadly, glaring at the
hilltop she’d stood on just last night, she could move on to figuring out how to get her brother back. How they could get away.
Hannah pulled her arm out of the grip of the man who had led her to her brother’s cell. She descended on the little
room, the dark shades of her new gown depressing the room even more than the stench of Theo’s bullet holes.
The packed floor leaked brown water and crusts of breads he’d refused. Hannah dropped to her knees at his side,
kneeling in the mess and mopping it up with the front of her gown. But she didn’t have the mind to care.
“Leave us,” she hissed to the guard.
When he didn’t, she straightened her back and shot him a glare that imitated Theo’s nearly perfectly.
“I said let us be! You think he can hurt me now? Thanks to you lot, his guts string out over this cell longer than he
does. And by sundown tomorrow, his insides are all that’s going to be left of him, crisped and roasted at a stake! So just go!”
Her escort and guard quickly backed down. He disappeared around the corner, just out of earshot, and leaned
against the wall, watching carefully over his shoulder.
Tears filled her eyes the second she turned back to her brother.
“It’s a bit of a setback, I’ll admit,” she rambled, reaching beneath her skirt and pulling out a handful of bandages
she’d made out of Theo’s now useless bed sheets. “Lucky for you, I know how to maneuver my way around medical things well
enough. Lean up, now. That’s it.”
She passed them to Theo who undid his buttons to wrap them tightly around his middle. His torso bound in thick
strips of white cloth, he redid his buttons and leaned tiredly against the wall.
“At least you’re a little more presentable, now, for your trial.”
A sad, empty look filled his eyes. She reached lamely towards him. “Happy Halloween, brother,” she whispered.
“You do remember our plans, don’t you? Should I meet you in the graveyard or will you and your corkboard belly need a bit of
help getting out of here?”
She brushed the hair away from his clammy face and smiled gently. But he caught her hand with his other one and
pushed it away. “Hannah, please. Stop pretending. You’re far brighter than that.”
She quickly shook her head to clear her ears of his grave tone. She leaned closer. “As are you, brother. Do not
pretend as if this is really goodbye. We both know this tragic scene of a young, innocent girl bidding goodbye to the last bit of her
family that remains on this earth is all a show. It’s all a part of the play that will get us out of here and on to the next town, where
you may rebuild our castle and we will live safely for many more years. Happily, too.”
“Do not make this harder on your poor heart. I know you understand what I’m saying,” he lectured. “Tthe only
escape this time will be yours. When I die tomorrow–” Hannah shook her head back and forth violently. “–you will be free to
remain here. I’ve heard that the Curious family is opening a new bakery this spring.”
“You’re mad. Delusional. That’s the only explanation for it. Because you’re not dying tomorrow, Theo. And I’d
never… I’d never stay here, live in our home, without you! Which is irrelevant because this time, two days from now, it will be
November. The snow will be coming soon. And we’ll be worrying about keeping ahead of it as we search for a fresh place to settle
Her eyes were surprisingly dry. She stumbled to her feet and took his face in her hands. “You’ll use your powers to
get out of here. And we shall meet in the cemetery,” she whispered, over and over again.
He nudged her away.
“Sister, listen to what I say and believe my words. Our hands are tied. I know my fate.”
She leapt to her feet, balling her hands into fists.
“Why are you doing this?!” she demanded. “Why are you just… just giving up? Do you want me to be alone? Or do
you want to fight, side-by-side, as brother and sister as we always have? We are all we have left!”
She paced briefly, but ended up back at his side when she caught site of the guard monitoring from afar.
“We are gifted people, brother. You really think we were given our kind of power and capabilities just so we may
throw it away, ignore it, when it matters most? Do not leave me. Please. I can’t let you do it.”
“Your powers. Your capabilities, Hannah.”
Hannah looked up at him through the tears that had finally arrived.
“…what are you talking about? Don’t kid, Theobald. Not about this.”
Theobald squished his eyes shut against a tear that escaped and dripped down the gauntness of his face.
“I’m not a witch, Hannah.”
“Y-yes you are. That’s… It’s what makes us… I mean, it was you and me, Theo…We were going to do this together.”
She buried her face in her hands and sighed shakily. “You mean… All that time that we talked about bringing back mom and
dad… I-I thought you wanted our family back. I thought you wanted your family back. What about Rachel?”
“Of course I want my wife back,” he snapped. “I want all of them! Don’t you think I’d have helped you do it long
ago, if I was able?”
Hannah rose to her feet and backed up against the bars.
“You’ve lied to me,” she whispered quietly. “All this time… A-and all your promises that t-those people I’d wake up
to find dead…It really was my fault, wasn’t it? I’m the one who killed them?” she cried.
She clasped both hands over her mouth. Unflattering tears poured from her eyes and her stomach grew ill and
twisted as the stench of all the people she’d thought had been an accident, that she thought her brother had lost control and killed,
not her, flooded her body and soul.
“This is finished,” she whispered, taking her hands from her lips. “I have my resolve about the situation, just as you
have yours. I won’t let you die. I can’t have it. There won’t be another life lost at my hands. Especially not yours.”
Turning her back on her traitorous brother before he could muster the energy, and words, with which to respond,
Hannah took the metal bars between her hands and rattled them violently.
“I’m finished!” she called to the guard. “Let me out. There’s nothing for me here.”
Theobald braced himself for the announcement. He peeked at the crowd through the tangles of hair that fell,
distraughtly and limply, over his eyes. For the fourth time, he failed to spot Hannah in the crowd of onlookers who campaigned
for his death.
“It will be to the relief of all our people here,” the magistrate began, clearing his throat and beckoning the attention
of everyone in the still, stuffy meeting house, “that Strangetown finds Theobald Büter guilty of the practice of witchcraft. He is, I
am afraid, a witch.”
Cries rose all throughout the house for his death – demands to which the magistrate only nodded.
“Not here?!” Hannah cried, nearly ruining her hair as she flung her head back. “Please, you have to tell my where
they’ve taken my brother. I was rash yesterday. I shouldn’t have turned him away. No matter his crime, he is blood. The last blood I
have in this whole world, actually. I must see him.”
But the meetinghouse was empty. Her plea echoed off the wooden walls.
Cecily stepped out of the shadows, startling Hannah. She extended a hand and tried to brush her hair back into
place. But the girl stumbled back out of reach, snatching her book off a pew and clutching it to her side.
“My dear, there is no place for affection or mercy in a case involving witchcraft,” Cecily whispered.
“What did you do?”
“We trust you’re on our side. You see what we see, regarding witchcraft. But as you said, Theobald was your only
family left. We couldn’t ask you to stand by your convictions, right as they may be in a different circumstance, when they’d
condemn your brother. Not without expecting you to try to rescue him,” she explained, reaching again for Hannah’s hand. “It’s
alright, dear. Theo’s been taken care of while you were asleep.”
Hannah’s face crumpled.
“Y-you killed him? A-at the… F-for… I didn’t get to see him!” she shrieked.
“Hannah, it was for the best, in every possible situation. Your brother was a witch. He was a danger to all of us,
including you. Do you even realize how many times he’s killed? And innocent people, too! He had to be stopped! And you: you’ve
at least been relieved of having to say goodbye to a man who turned out to be a monster. Without the temptation to help him, you
won’t rebel. You won’t break the rules and you’ll be able to remain here. It’s quite a beautiful ending, actually–”
Hannah ripped her hand from Cecily’s grip. The woman advanced for a third time. But Hannah raised a hand and,
with a sweeping motion, pinned the woman against a post with magic. Her magic.
“Theo wasn’t the murderer,” Hannah hissed, tightening her grip so that the sides of Cecily’s neck begin to collapse
inwards. Uncontrollable tears leaked from Hannah’s eyes. “I-I was. Am.”
Realization and terror flashed across Cecily’s face right before her thin body collapsed to the floor, pale and drained
of both air and life.
Hannah dropped her hand. Magic stopped flowing out of her fingertips. She wiped the tears away and forced
herself to sniff back the ones still lingering behind her eyes.
“Help!” she cried out, her voice cracking, as she bolted from the meetinghouse.
The townspeople snapped to attention. As they armed themselves and came towards the meetinghouse, Hannah
disappeared into the edges of the forest, clutching her book close to her chest.
It was nearly midnight. Halloween was nearly over. But there was still a little time. A little hope.
Hannah ran to the cemetery and let herself in, keeping low in case the townspeople had already spread the news
about Cecily. Surely, they could realize it was Hannah who had killed the poor woman. Soon they’d likely storm her house again,
in search of her, so they may fill her torso with the bite of a musket, bind her limbs, and throw her into Theo’s old cell until she
may hang from the gallows.
But there’d be time to fear it all later.
Hannah dropped to her knees on the dirt. Already, they’d disposed of Theo’s body in the corner of the land. At
least they had given him a tombstone. With shaking hands, she placed her book – found beneath Theo’s mattress along with the
money – on the ground before it and opened to a page she’d had marked since yesterday.
She forced her eyes closed and began whispering words in a tongue not recognized by the town.
She whirled around on her knees, ruffling the pages of the spell book.
Hannah scrambled to her feet and threw herself at the boy who’d manifested before her. She encircled his torso with
her arms and buried her tears against his solid, healthy chest. But he wouldn’t embrace her back.
“What are you doing? We don’t have much time. Theo, the spell I’ve cast can only call you back for Halloween.
Thanks to you getting hanged behind my back,” she teased, poking him in the ribs, “there isn’t much of the holiday left.”
For a brief moment, Theo’s eyes sank closed and his hands brushed the hair back from her face. But as he caught
sight of the moon, he pushed her off and grabbed her by the shoulders, leveling his gaze with hers.
“I know. We have mere moments left. So you must listen to me,” he insisted roughly. “You’ve been a fool, trying to
thwart the natural progressions of life and death.”
Hannah folded her arms over her stomach. Her tearful smile hardened into a glare.
“You discounted me earlier, assuming I haven’t brought our families back simply for lack of want or power.” He
touched her face and frowned. “I do wish you’d listen better, little sister. You really think you can alter life and death without any
sort of payment? Without putting in work to maintain your adjustments?”
Theo wrapped his arms around her finally and hugged her against him. The ‘mere moments’ ticked down to perhaps
one or two remaining.
“I was nearly that foolish, once. Pushing you to do unnatural things, pushing you and pushing you until you nearly
broke. It took me many nights to realize the cost. I swore that two night ago would be the last time, even before I was captured.”
“Theo, what are you talking about? What costs? What work?”
“You’ve cast a spell to call me back to this earth once a year, on Halloween. Every Halloween. When the connection
between the living and the dead is at it’s weakest.”
“Because I want to see you,” she protested, squeezing her arms about him. “Because if you’re gone for good, I can’t
bear it! All alone? I won’t. There’s no need.”
“Yes, but, sister… Don’t you see? Every time I’m called back to your world of the living, someone must hold my
place on the other side…” He felt her tense and stiffen. “You will not die, Hannah. Not from this. Not at first.”
She pulled away. He let her. There was no substantial time left.
“This isn’t a spell, Hannah. It’s not some miracle that will allow us to be a family, despite the division of the living
from the dead. It’s a curse. One that requires you to make sacrifices. Human sacrifices. Hannah, you’ll have to kill. Bloat the other
side with the spirits and ghosts of others so I may be called here every year, on this very day. One body for every hour I may stay. It
is what I made you do in order to try to get my Rachel back. But it never worked for me; I never thought to try on this night.”
“B-but I… I only wanted you back,” she whispered, twisting her hands. “I-I didn’t mean to… I don’t want…”
“You’ve already been condemned,” he interrupted, in a low voice. He took her hands in his. “Hannah, you must
listen and listen well. You’ve already cast the spell. Do not fight it. Whatever you do, do not resist and refuse payment. Doing that
will ensure we are together by killing you and trapping us both to this… this limbo. Please.”
Hannah buried her face in her hands.
“But perhaps it wouldn’t be so–”
Stillness surrounded her. Halloween was over. Slowly, she looked out over the cemetery.
She could see fog creeping in in the distance, blowing between the headstones in the main part of the cemetery.
Crows circled and dove at the mossy ground. Dry tree branches creaked and moaned behind her back.
“Theo,” she whispered, dropping to her knees in his absence. “What have I done? I-I’ll become a monster…”
Hannah’s eyes leapt to the path. Her stomach twisted and she quickly pushed herself to her feet.
“Margery,” Hannah whispered. She narrowed her eyes at the young, small member of the Spencer family. “You
should be with your family. Something… something’s happened to your mother. Go. Please.”
Margery pulled her hands out from behind her back, revealing a knife that glinted in the moonlight cast over the icy
yard of November 1st.
“Your brother didn’t have all of us fooled,” she announced. “I know you’re a witch, Hannah. And I know you
murdered my mother, along with all the townspeople found in the forest!”
“You don’t understand,” Hannah insisted. “Lay down your weapons and let us talk, dear.”
Margery held the knife high above her head and lunged at the witch.
But Hannah had already raised her hand and begun squeezing.
Already she was gathering hours for next Halloween.
And thus began the legend of Hannah Büter …