The village of Witches Crossing was a terrible disappointment to Doris van der Beak, Jeremiah Knickerbocker and Artie Boegart Jr. They had been so excited when they arrived from America, and especially excited to see Old Albion’s most haunted village. So far they had seen and heard nothing, not one tiny haunted thing – not a mysteriously floating knife, not a terrible threat written backwards in a mirror or a ghostly scream in the night. Nothing. It was crushing. They sat around their cramped and wobbling table in the Haunted Inn, sipping at glasses of Big Bertha’s End that the barmaid, who wore a grimy bed-sheet over her head and added a miserable “WOOOO” to the end of every sentence, brought at regular twenty minute intervals, whether they wanted them or not.
From the outside Doris van der Beak, Jeremiah Knickerbocker and Artie Boegart Jr. looked and sounded like the rest of the ordinary tourists who came to Witches Crossing – badly dressed, very loud and bulging, whether from fat or from purses, cameras and other valuables strapped tight to their bodies. But they were not, and one glimpse inside their suitcases would start to give the game away. They did not bring many clothes and they did not bring books. Their suitcases were not full of normal things, but with the contraptions that professional ghost hunters would use to capture evidence once and for all that some dead things crawl back to life and haunt the world.
So far, however, the famous haunted village of Witches Crossing looked like being a total waste of time for the newly formed company “Paranormal Investigators Inc.,” each of whom kept a business card in his or her pocket ready to pull out at a moment’s notice.
Doris van der Beek, Executive Director of Ghost Hunting, was particularly upset. “O MY GAWD,” she said loudly, so everyone in the Inn, and those walking on the streets outside, could hear her. “I am SOOOOO disappointed!”
Doris van der Beek’s skin was the colour of a well-varnished table, which was the description the bottle of fake tan she had dipped herself into had upon it. Doris had a halo of bright blonde frizz for hair, a sinewy body from hours spent running at the gym and a love of bright, bright colours. She was wearing a baby pink jumpsuit, which she’d teamed with electric blue trainers and bright orange lipstick. She thought this meant that supernatural entities would notice her and want to communicate with her better – which was a good thing because most living people didn’t want to.
“OH MY GAWD,” she cried again, “Where is this poltergeist? We have been waiting here for EVER! This rain, it is messing with the energy fields and I can NOT get a single accurate reading on my ITR. I HATE it here.”
An ITR was a ghost hunter’s name for a simple thermometer. Ghost hunters believe that when a ghost is present the temperature will noticeably drop. The village of Witches Crossing was always cold and drafty and the temperature was always scraping along the very worst the thermometer could read. Depressed, she began chewing at her straw. Doris van der Beek, Jeremiah Knickerbocker and Artie Boegart Jr., had checked into the Witches Crossing’s Haunted Inn to carry out therapy on the resident poltergeist, Griselda the Wicked Widow.
Griselda Winterbottom was the first victim of the Witchfinder General’s terrible Witch Trials. She was already an old woman when the trials began, and lived alone on the edge of the village where the Haunted Inn now stood. Her husband, who had lived a long and miserable life listening to his wife complain about every tiny thing she did not like (which was almost everything), had disappeared in the Civil War. Actually he had only pretended to disappear and had run away to marry a very quiet woman called Bethany and tend to a herd of goats. Meanwhile Griselda bought the inn with money she had saved, and became famous for her tasty cooking – and particularly her Moon Queen stew. It became the reason why everybody loved her, and later became the reason why she would be the Witchfinder General’s first victim.
Every day and every night, Griselda would stand in the centre of the Inn, cooking and serving her Moon Queen’s Stew from one large, single black cauldron that hung down from the roof. The Moon Queen’s Stew she made was thick and golden brown, like treacle, with a secret ingredient that nobody knew. The inn was filled daily with people waiting for Griselda’s stew. The taste exploded in your mouth like a rainbow breaking out from behind dark clouds.
As she cooked, Griselda sang the same song over and over:
“Valerian and nettle – stir it twice and let it brew
Time to make a delicious pot of Moon Queen Stew
Angelica and Allspice and a dash of Carraway
Elderflower berries from a place far, far away
Sprinkle in some petals and a drop of meadow dew
And leave overnight for Moon Queen stew!”
Stood above her cauldron, her face damp with steam from her bubbling stew, Griselda was mad and old and lonely, but there was not one bone in her body or thought in her head that meant someone else harm. Until one fateful night, everybody in the village loved her, her Inn and her unending pot of Moon Queen’s Stew.
The secret ingredient that Griselda used in her stew was Witches Balm, a herb that she foraged from the woods each morning as the sun rose to add fresh to her cauldron every evening. As Griselda got older her eyes became dimmer and she struggled to see as well. Unfortunately for Griselda that day she picked a herb that looked very similar to witches balm. It was called Deadly Nightshade, and was exactly what it said – deadly.
Ten soldiers passing through from one battle in the War had eaten a hearty supper of Griselda’s stew and were sitting back in their chairs rubbing their swollen stomachs with satisfaction. Then there was a noise, and they began to fall down from their chairs backwards and all lay upon the ground, gurgling their last gurgles, faces turned an unfortunate shade of green, victims of the stew. Unfortunately for Griselda it was at that precise moment that the Witchfinder General and his men arrived for dinner. Coming through the door and seeing the dead and dying upon the floor, he stretched a long finger out towards her and her steaming cauldron. He declared, “WITCH!”, and Griselda’s fate was sealed.